What To Do When A Parent Dies

When a parent dies, we don’t know how we will handle our grief. There are many stages to grief, so we can imagine how we will feel, but we really won’t know until it happens. There may be some surprising emotions along the way; new feelings such as abandonment, anger or mortality. We might feel guilty, scared or alone in ways that we haven’t experienced before.

Help for When a Parent Dies

  1. Don’t try to brush it off and move on too quickly. Acknowledge this event and start to let all of your feelings come out. There are many stages of grief that can take a long time to go through. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to experience them.
  2. Identify your feelings. Sometimes we see a parent as a liaison between ourselves and death. You may start to feel your mortality more. You may start to feel anxious or alone. Even if you weren’t close to one of your parents, when a parent dies, knowing that they aren’t living anymore can still affect you.
  3. If there are things you didn’t get to say to your parent before they died, it is still helpful to express these things. Write them in a journal, talk to a trusted relative or friend, or see a professional grief counsellor. Saying those things you always wanted to say can be important for a sense of closure. 
  4. Join a support group for grief or bereavement to be with people who can understand what happens when a parent dies.
  5. Learn how to comfort yourself. Acknowledge when its time to reach out to a friend or family member to talk about your feelings. Know when you need time alone to feel your feelings. Learn if looking at pictures or memorabilia from your parent is helpful or makes you feel worse. Everyone experiences grief differently so there isn’t a right or wrong way for you to grieve.
  6. Plan ahead for holidays or anniversaries. You may want to do some of the same activities that you used to do with your parent, or you may want to do something completely different for a while. Learn what works for as you go through the grieving process.
  7. Family dynamics may get worse. When a parent dies, your siblings and other family members may experience this loss differently. They are entitled to express their grief just as much as you are. Give everyone the freedom to grieve in a way that best suits them. If things become too intense, seek profession help personally or as a family.
  8. If you were the caretaker when a parent dies, you may experience feelings of relief. This emotion may surprise you and others. Relief is a legitimate feeling that may also trigger feelings of guilt. Being a caretaker is a very demanding role and it is natural to feel relief when you no longer need to be a caretaker. Explore your feelings and talk about them with someone you trust or a professional grief counsellor.
When a parent dies, the feelings that come up may be intense and surprising. Some people might not know what to say to you. Other people will want to help but not know how. Whatever happens, be kind to yourself and seek out friends, counsellors, or other resources (books or organisations) that have experience in dealing with the death of a parent. You are not alone.