Losing a parent is never easy. Some people think that when they lose a parent to old age, grieving is easier because the loss is expected. Others think that if they weren’t close or they had a complex relationship, the loss won’t affect them as much. Yet even when you’ve had time to prepare, even when they weren’t a big presence in your life, the loss is still profound.
Whether you’re old or young, whether the loss is sudden or expected, the truth is that we’re often not fully prepared for how to deal with the grief of losing a parent. In order to grieve in a healthy way, you need to understand the process and allow yourself to experience it fully — as difficult as it may be.
What are the stages of grief when a parent dies?
The stages of grief when losing a parent are the same as any loss and are felt just as powerfully. At first, you may feel shock and denial — you may even feel numb. Then you might feel pain and guilt, especially if the loss was sudden and you are left wondering if there is anything you could have done to prevent it. Next comes anger and bargaining, then depression, and finally acceptance, though this may not be the progression for everyone.
However, we may feel certain stages more than others during the loss of a parent. For example, if we were close, we may feel as if we could have done something differently to prevent the loss, and feel more guilt. If we were not close, we may feel regret for lost opportunities. We may have lost a source of unconditional love and acceptance, or even a best friend, leading to more feelings of denial and anger. No matter your relationship, overcoming the grief of losing a parent takes time.
How long does it take to stop grieving over a parent?
There is no set time frame for coping with the grief of losing a parent. The grieving process is highly personal and depends on a variety of factors, and it can take anywhere from six months to two years. The length of time for which you grieve is less important than whether you grieve fully and allow yourself to truly come to terms with your emotions. If you ever feel stuck — like you are not moving through the stages of grief of losing a parent — it could be cause for concern. If you’re having trouble making progress, consider consulting a therapist or a grief counselor.
How to deal with the grief of losing a parent
Losing a parent can bring up all kinds of unexpected emotions. On top of that, you will likely need to organize a funeral and make other arrangements while the loss is still fresh. It can also strain relations between siblings and other relatives. It’s a tough time, which makes it especially essential that you have the right tools for how to deal with the grief of losing a parent.
Allow yourself to feel
The emotions that come with coping with the grief of losing a parent are unique. They often seem to contradict one another: We feel grateful for all they provided us, yet angry at their shortcomings. We feel complete love and affection for the good times, yet may also feel regret and guilt for all the things we could have said or done during their time with us.
Parental relationships are some of the most complicated relationships we have in life — and anything you feel is valid. Sadness, anger, and guilt are common and you must allow yourself to feel these complex emotions. Repressing your emotions will only delay your true healing.
For many of us, our memories of our parents are not all happy. Yet this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to come to terms with who your parent was: a human being, fallible and imperfect. This realization is one of the most powerful tips for overcoming the grief of losing a parent: forgiveness.
As the saying goes, "Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." Forgiving your mother or father doesn’t mean condoning their behaviors — it’s a gift you give yourself so that you can move forward in your life.
Remember their impact
Grief often brings a period of reflection — about the person you’ve lost and the impact they had on you. Reflect on all that your parent taught you. Listen to their favorite songs. Play the games that you played as children. Write about your favorite memories or paint a picture in their honor. Expressing your emotions while remembering your loved one will help you discover how to deal with the grief of losing a parent.
The stages of grief when losing a parent may be similar, but the way in which we experience them is never the same from person to person. Remember that every emotion you feel is valid, and that as long as you are moving forward, you will eventually come out the other side of your grief.