Grief After Losing a Parent

January 20, 2023

Most people have known their parents longer than any other person in their life. Even if you were not close to your parents, they will still have had a strong influence on your life- whether this is good or bad. Despite the fact you may be a grown, independent adult now, our need and dependency on our parents often never truly goes away.  

Often losing a parent leads to a shift in responsibility for the child. They may have had to be the primary caregiver or now have extra responsibilities in their family which can cause a sense of added pressure and stress. A parent’s death can also make you think about your own mortality which can be a scary concept to be reminded of. This combination of added responsibility and grief can lead to very intense emotions.  

Conflicting emotions

If you had an estranged or complicated relationship with your parent, you can experience a range of emotions which you may think to feel conflicting or confusing. This is to be expected, so know that your feelings are valid. However, if these feelings seem unbearable, seek professional help. 

You might experience a range of the following: 

  • Guilt  
  • Anger  
  • Shock  
  • Feeling lost 
  • Numbness 
  • Confusion  
  • Denial 
  • A sense of hopelessness 
  • Relief  
  • Physical Pain 

These feelings may start to change as you go through the different stages of grief.

Grief triggers

Grief does not just go away, especially for someone as important as a parent. In the long term, it is common to establish some grief triggers- certain things will suddenly remind you of your grief and can feel debilitating. This overwhelming sense of grief years after your parent has died can come as a shock but it is common because of these grief triggers.  

Everyone’s grief journey is different and whilst you may start to feel better, later down the line the grief may return. This may happen when certain songs play on the radio, if you reach a milestone in life you would usually share with your parent or if you smell their perfume. Anything can be a trigger, it is just important to understand what your grief triggers are and to understand it’s a normal part of the grief journey for waves of additional grief to occur. 

Take the time you need

As with all types of grief, there is no strict timescale to how long it will take you to recover from a death. Take the time you need and do not expect to recover quickly. Whilst some are able to seemingly work through their grief quickly and return to their day-to-day lives, others will not be able to do this so fast- and that’s ok. 

Look after yourself

Whilst self-care may be the last thing on your mind, ensure it remains a priority, otherwise it could negatively impact your daily life.  

  • Try and get at least 7 hours of sleep a night  
  • Even if you are not particularly hungry, try and avoid skipping meals. Opt for nutritious foods if you only want something small  
  • Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated 
  • Do not rely on alcohol to numb the pain or help you sleep  
  • Concentrate on your hobbies. Schedule some time to spend doing things you love 
  • Write down your feelings  
  • Speak to people- whether it be your friends, family, a healthcare professional or a grief group 

Share memories

Most people have a lot of great memories with their parents as you have known them your whole life. It is important to keep these memories alive and treasure them. You may find comfort in spending time with other family members and sharing your favourite memories of your loved one. Doing this can also be really beneficial for younger members of the family who may not have as many memories about your parent of their own. 

Whilst doing this may be painful, to begin with, many find comfort in the process. If you struggle to talk about memories, why not create a memory box or write your favourite memories down? This way you can look back at them whenever you want to. 

Honour their memory

Many people find doing something in the name of their loved one is a great way to treasure their memory. You may want to: 

  • Continue any projects they were working on (e.g a DIY project or craft project) 
  • Donate to a charity close to their heart 
  • Plant their favourite tree or plant  

Discover more ways to treasure their memory here.

Embrace family relations

When a parent dies, other family relationships can change. Some members of the family may drift apart whilst others may end up being closer than before.  

Where possible, cherish the family relationships you have left as family bonds are special and can help provide you with comfort during this difficult time. Reach out and encourage family gatherings for those that want to be included.  

Losing a parent can be difficult at any age and can lead to confusing emotions. It’s important to remember that whatever you are feeling is valid. There’s no correct or one way to grieve for a parent. It strongly depends on the relationship you had with them and everyone’s grief journey is different.