Nothing can truly prepare you for the loss of a parent.
No matter your age or if the death was sudden or expected, the pain felt from losing a parent is like no other. The depth of connection to your parents can be one of your profound relationships. You have shared so many memories, and your relationship likely is one of your longest. Your parents have seen you reach your most important milestones. They have laughed with you, cheered you on, and cried with you. Sometimes, the relationship can be complicated, but you will never have another mother and father, no matter what your relationship was like. The gaping hole left by a parent’s death is one that can never be filled.
Losing a parent is the most common form of grief and likely something we will all face at some point in our lives. As we enter adulthood, we expect it as a standard life passage. However, when a parent dies, our culture rushes us to accept what has happened quickly. We are told to bury the pain and return to life without missing a beat.
According to Elisabeth Kubler Ross, when a loved one dies, a person goes through five states of emotions during the grieving process. These emotions are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She believes that skipping any of these steps can lengthen the grieving process. Not taking the proper time to grieve can cause more harm than good.
Taking the time to nurture yourself when grieving is an essential step toward healing. For many who have lost a parent, you may have begun the grieving process long before death arrives. Perhaps, your parent had cancer or another terminal illness. The thing about grief is it can start as soon as you become aware that death is possible. This type of grief is called anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief carries many of the same symptoms as regular grief. These symptoms can include depression, anxiety, sadness, anger, and exhaustion.
When grieving, neglecting your emotional and physical needs can happen regularly, especially when you are exhausted and feel guilty for prioritizing yourself. There are, however, many ways to take care of yourself when grieving. Here are some ideas that will help you take care of yourself while grieving a parent’s loss.
Eat Well, Sleep Well and Move Your Body: Grief can affect your body, and now more than ever, it is vital to prioritize your physical health. Remember, a healthy body creates a healthy mind. You may have little energy while you are grieving to prioritize your physical health. But taking small steps each day to take care of yourself can help ease your grief in the long run. If you are having trouble planning healthy meals, ask a friend or family member to help with shopping or meal planning. Sometimes it can be challenging to ask for help. But asking a friend to set up a meal train or shop for you can remove the burden of daily meal planning while you take the time to heal. Your body and mind need to rest to recover. Make sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Be mindful of your caffeine and alcohol intake. Both can be sleep disrupters. Take a nap or rest during the day if you need it. Lastly, remember to move your body. Go for a walk, do some yoga. Anything that will get you moving. Exercise produces endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood lifter.
Be Kind To Yourself and permit Yourself to Grieve: Remember to take time to check in with yourself. Be patient with yourself and your pain. Honor your feelings and connect with your emotions. If your relationship with your mom or dad was complicated, give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Your grief is unique to you. Try not to compare your grief to anyone else’s grief or their expectations of what you should be feeling or doing. Allow yourself to be less productive during this time. Allow yourself to be angry. Allow yourself to cry. If you laugh and find joy in a moment, that is okay too. You will have good moments and difficult ones as you move through your grief. Remember to be present and take the time to listen to your heart and what it is telling you that you need.
Connect With Fellow Grievers: Connect with those that also had a special connection to your loved one. Share stories, photos, and memories. Speaking of the deceased and remembering them can help with your healing. If you are not finding the support you need in your family and friends’ circle, connect with other grievers. For many, grief support groups are one of the best resources out there. Support groups will help you feel less alone and connect you with others facing similar emotions and challenges.
At Circles, we have Circles of Support open to people going through the loss of a parent. You’ll be surrounded by people going through similar challenges and by a professional therapist who will guide you through tools and methods while you navigate your life in the light of your loss. Join us and be surrounded by support.
Remember, the loss of a parent is one of life’s most stressful events. Practice compassion for yourself by taking the time you need to prioritize your needs. Be gentle with yourself while grieving. Taking care of yourself is essential and a necessity during this most difficult time.