Death of a Parent

The loss of a parent is one of the most painful experiences of a child. It stirs up the primal fears of childhood. It can make you feel vulnerable and abandoned. After all no one on earth has known you longer. No one else has known you so intimately, the small child you once were, and the stages you have gone through. And in certain ways, if the relationship was good, no one has loved you more. Unlike other deaths, the death of a parent means the loss of someone you have known your entire lives, someone whose behaviour structured your earliest conceptions, and someone you may have always trusted to take care of you. The death can consequently fracture your sense of security. Although you consciously realize that your parents may predecease you, you may unconsciously think of them as immortal. No matter how grown up you are, the inevitability of a parents death does not necessarily diminish its impact. Even when an adult loses a parent, intensity of grief is present. Bereaved children who are adults themselves, are often surprised that the loss produces such serious effects. Some people mistakenly assume that because they have a life of their own – their own family and job – losing their parent may not have a major impact on them. However the attachment to the parent is always present and the loss can arouse very deep emotions. The death of a parent can also affect your position in the world by shifting responsibilities onto your shoulders. Unbuffered by parental protection, you feel the harsh winds of reality. Whatever sense of security you derived from your relationship with that parent is gone. Because the surviving parent (if present) may be coping with loneliness and despair, you may also feel a new sense of responsibility for that parent. Many factors determine the way you react to the death of a parent. One of them is your age at the time of the loss. Young adults often have a hard time coping with such a loss, even when they may seem to have independent lives. During that time, roles and identities are still in flux, they may still look very much to parents for advice, emotional support, and a sense of security. When a parent dies during these years, feelings of loss and unfairness may be very strong. Young children react to the death of a parent according to the personality and disposition of the child. If they allow themselves to feel the grief and display it, they will recover much more quickly than those who suppress their feelings. Often the children will take their cues from the family members around them. If they see people crying openly, they will be encouraged to do the same. Another factor affecting how children get over the death of a parent is the amount of support they receive. The period of morning is a sensitive one, and children need all the support possible. Extra attention, talking to them, showing care and concern – all this means a lot to the grieving child. The factor that most determines the shape of the mourning is the quality of the relationship between the parent and child. Children who were close to the deceased may profoundly miss the regular contacts they had with the parent. Familiar and pleasant elements of life in which the parent played an important role are now gone. Fortunately, the better the relationship, the easier it is to move through the grieving process. When the relationship has been negative, there is a lot of guilt and regret. Missed opportunities, miscommunications, fights, hurtful exchanges, are all dwelt on with regret. Mourning a relationship in which you didn’t get what you wanted is not easy. On the contrary a positive relationship leaves treasured memories which help calm the grief. The death of a parent can unbalance the psychological shape of the entire family, and alter relationships among surviving family members. Sometimes it can result into gradual drifting apart. In other instances, the extreme stress of a death in the family can cause dissent and friction. But if relationships have been good before, they may become even stronger now. Members of the family help support one another and strive to fill the void. The loss of a loved one brings the realization that everyone is mortal, and it is necessary to display the love and affection one feels before it is too late. When a parent dies, you learn valuable lessons about what really matters. The death of a parent is painful, but does not have to be life shattering. Gradually the child learns to live in the world without the parent. The loss however, will not be forgotten, and will often surface at various moments in life. The bond between a parent and child is extremely strong, and loss through death does not sever it completely. Source: Grieving, How to go on living when someone you love dies, Therese A.Rando and Seasons of Grief, Dr. Donna A. Gaffney.