Whether you had a good, bad or indifferent relationship with the parent who died, your feelings for him or her were probably quite strong. At bottom, most of us love our parents deeply. And they love us with the most unconditional love that imperfect human beings can summons. Realize that your grief is unique. No one grieves in exactly the same way. Your particular experience will be influenced by the type of relationship you had with your parent, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background. As a result, you will grieve in your own way and in your own time. Don't try to compare your experience with that of other people, or adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. The parent-child bond is perhaps the most fundamental of all human ties. When your mother or father dies, that bond is torn. In response to this loss you may feel a multitude of strong emotions. Numbness, confusion, fear, guilt, relief and anger are just a few of the feelings you may have. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously. Some of the things you may expect to experience:
Sadness You probably expected to feel sad when your parent died, but you may be surprised at the overwhelming depth of your feelings of loss. If this was your second parent to die, you may feel especially sorrowful; becoming an "adult orphan" can be a very painful transition. You may also feel sad because the loss of a parent triggers secondary losses, such as the loss of a grandparent to your children. Allow yourself to feel sad and embrace your pain.
Relief If your parent was sick for a time before the death, you may well feel relief when he or she finally dies. This feeling may be particularly strong if you were responsible for your ill parent's care. This does not mean you did not love your parent. In fact, your relief at the end to suffering is a natural outgrowth of your love.
Anger If you came from a dysfunctional or abusive family, you may feel unresolved anger toward your dead parent. His or her death may bring painful feelings to the surface. On the other hand, you may feel angry because a loving relationship in your life has prematurely ended. If you are angry, try to examine the source of that often legitimate anger and work to come to terms with it.
Guilt If your relationship with your parent was rocky, distant or ambivalent, you may feel guilty when that parent dies. You may wish you had said things you wanted to say but never did-or you may wish you could unsay hurtful things. You may wish you had spent more time with your parent. Guilt and regret can be normal responses to the death of your mother or father. And working through those feelings is essential to healing. As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Let yourself feel whatever you may be feeling; don't judge yourself or try to repress painful thoughts and feelings. And whenever you can, find someone who will hear you out as you explore your grief. If you have brothers or sisters, the death of this parent will probably affect them differently than it is affecting you. After all, each of them had a unique relationship with the parent who died, so each has the right to mourn the loss in his or her own way. The death may also stir up sibling conflicts. You and your brothers and sisters may disagree about the funeral, for example, or argue about family finances. Recognize that such conflicts are natural, if unpleasant. Do your part to encourage open communication during this stressful family time. When there is a surviving parent, try to understand the death's impact on him or her. This does not mean that you are necessarily responsible for the living parent; in fact, to heal you must first and foremost meet your own grief needs. But it does mean that you, a younger and often more resilient family member, should be patient and compassionate as you continue your relationship with the surviving parent. Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself at this difficult time is to reach out for help from others. Seek out people who acknowledge your loss and will listen to you as you openly express your grief. Avoid people who try to judge your feelings or worse yet, try to take them away from you. Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible.
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