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How to Cope With Losing a Parent - Part 2

In part 1 of “How to Cope with Losing a Parent,” we looked at the different ways the relationship you had with your parents can affect your feelings of loss. Part 2 is about different coping strategies you can utilize to help work through the loss and grief.

Grief often has a significant impact on daily life, such as:

  • Your state of mind might change rapidly, without warning.

  • You might notice sleep problems, more or less of an appetite, irritability, poor concentration, or increased alcohol or substance use.

  • You might find it tough to work, take care of household tasks, or see to your own basic needs.

  • The need to wrap up your parent’s affairs may leave you overwhelmed, particularly if you have to handle this task alone.

Some people find comfort in the distraction of work, but try to avoid forcing yourself to return before you feel ready, if possible. People often throw themselves into work, taking on more than they can comfortably handle to avoid scaling the ever-present wall of painful emotions.

Remember the following tips:

  1. Be gentle with yourself. The death of a parent is hard. If possible, give yourself as much time to grieve as needed without the additional stress of work or other life demands.

  2. Pace yourself. The tasks of arranging services, sorting through possessions, and handling the estate can be emotionally exhausting and simultaneously healing. Do what you can, focus on the things that must be done, ask for help when needed, and accept the support of loved ones and friends.

  3. Eat well. Without nourishment, your body and mind cannot function well. If you don’t feel hungry, choose nutritious snacks and small meals of mood-boosting foods.

  4. Make time for self-care. It might seem difficult, even inconsiderate, to dedicate time to self-care, but prioritizing your health becomes even more important as you recover from your loss.

  5. Reach out to others who are also grieving. Connect with other family members affected by the loss, or consider joining a local support group. The support of others who have recently experienced loss may help you feel less alone.

  6. Use your loss to help others. You may find comfort, for example, in donating a parent’s clothing or belongings to charity.

  7. Keep the past present. Consider reinstating a tradition of your parents as a way to honor and remember them.

  8. Contact a therapist. If the pain of grieving becomes too great, seek the support of a compassionate mental health professional. Many therapists and counselors specialize in supporting the bereaved.

  9. Get enough sleep. Set aside 7 to 9 hours each night for sleep.

  10. Avoid skipping meals.

  11. Drink plenty of water.

  12. Keep moving. Stay active to energize yourself and help raise your spirits. Yoga and daily walks can help reduce the stress you are experiencing.

  13. Aim for moderation. If you drink alcohol, try to stay within recommended guidelines. It’s understandable to want to numb your pain, but increased alcohol use can have health consequences.

  14. Recharge with fulfilling hobbies, such as gardening, reading, art, or music. Plant their favorite tree or flower in your backyard

  15. Be mindful. Meditating or keeping a grief journal can help you process emotions.

  16. Speak up. Talk to your healthcare provider about any new physical or mental health symptoms. Reach out to friends and other loved ones for support.

a small home memorial with photos and mementos

  1. Adopt their pet or plants

  2. Donate to their preferred charity or organization

Share memories

Talking to family members and other loved ones about what your parents meant to you. Sharing stories can help keep their memory alive. If you have children, you might tell stories about their grandparents or you could carry on family traditions that were important in your childhood.

It might feel painful at first to reminisce, but you may find that your grief begins to ease as the stories start flowing.

If you feel unable to openly talk about your parents for the moment, it can also help to collect photographs of special times or write them a letter expressing your grief about their passing.

Not everyone has positive memories of their parents, of course. And people often avoid sharing negative memories about people who’ve passed. If they abused, neglected, or hurt you in any way, you may wonder whether there’s any point to dredging up that old pain.

If you’ve never discussed or processed what happened, you might find it even harder to heal and move forward after their death. Opening up to a therapist or someone else you trust can help lighten the load.

Forgive them

Upon hearing the news that an estranged parent has passed away, you might feel lost, numb, angry, or surprised by your grief. You might even feel cheated of the opportunity to address past trauma or unresolved hurt.

Life doesn’t always give us the answers we seek or the solutions we crave. Sometimes you just have to accept inadequate conclusions, however unfinished or painful they feel. Knowing you can no longer address the past might leave you feeling as if you’re doomed to carry that hurt forever.

Instead of clutching tight to any lingering bitterness, try viewing this as an opportunity to let go of the past and move forward — for your sake. Some things are truly difficult to forgive, but harboring resentment only harms you, since there’s no one left to receive it.

A letter can help you express things previously left unsaid and take the first steps toward processing the painful and complex feelings left after their death. Working with a therapist can also help you begin to heal the pain of the past.

Let others comfort you

Friends and loved ones may not know exactly what to say if they haven’t faced the same type of loss, but their presence can still help you feel less alone. It’s normal to need time to mourn privately, but at the same time, completely isolating yourself generally doesn’t help. The companionship and support of those closest to you can help keep you from being overwhelmed by your loss.

Beyond providing a supportive presence, friends can also help out with meals, child care, or handling errands. Let others know what you need.

If you want to talk about your parent, you might ask if they’re able to listen. If you’d like a break from thinking about their death, you might ask them to join you in a distracting activity, whether that’s playing a game, watching a movie, or working on a project around the house.

Embrace family relationships

You might notice family relationships begin to change after your parent’s death. The death of a parent often negatively affects closeness between adult siblings. It’s not unusual for siblings to experience conflict or slowly drift apart, particularly if you disagreed over your parent’s end-of-life care.

Your remaining parent, if still living, may now look to you and your siblings for support. Your siblings, if you have any, are facing the same loss. Their unique relationship with your parents can mean they experience the loss differently than you do, too.

Family bonds can provide comfort during grief. You’ve experienced the same loss, even though that person meant something different to each of you. If you cherish your family relationships, make an effort to strengthen those bonds and draw closer together.

This might mean reaching out more often than in the past or inviting them more regularly to visit and participate in family gatherings. It can also mean listening with empathy when a sibling who had a difficult relationship with your parent now finds it hard to come to terms with their conflicting emotions.

Consider grief support groups

It’s not uncommon to feel irritated or frustrated when people in your life who haven’t experienced loss attempt to console you or express messages of concern. Friends and loved ones may offer comfort, but a grief support group can fulfill a different kind of social need by connecting you to others who have experienced similar losses.

No matter how kind or well intentioned their words are, they simply don’t understand what you’re going through. In a support group, you can find a shared understanding, along with validation of the emotions you feel unable to express to anyone else.

Talk to a therapist

There’s no shame in needing extra support as you begin processing your parent’s death. In fact, many counselors specialize in providing grief support.

A therapist can offer validation and guidance as you begin working through the complex emotions that tend to accompany grief. Grief counselors can also teach coping strategies you can use as you begin adjusting to life without your parent.

If you want to forgive your parent, but feel unsure how to begin, a therapist can provide compassionate support. Therapy offers a safe space to unpack any guilt, anger, resentment, or other lingering emotions around a deceased parent’s toxic or harmful behavior, and to achieve some level of closure.

The bottom line

Grief after a parent’s death can drain you and leave you reeling, no matter what kind of relationship you had.

Remember, grieving is a normal, healthy process, one that looks different for everyone. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, embracing patience as you take the time you need to work through your loss

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