Grieving the Death of a Parent

By Carol Staudacher,

. . . no one knows you in the exact same way as your mother or father–indeed, will ever know you as your parent did.

A friend of mine, a hefty, 6-foot-4, middle-aged rancher in Colorado walked out one early morning to inform his foreman and ranch hands, “I’ll be gone today and tomorrow.” Then, with tears in his eyes, he told the men, “I’m going home to bury my mama.” The sentiments of this rugged character are universal. Regardless of your age, size, occupation or gender, when your mother dies, you are still that mother’s child. She is still your mama and the place where she raised you may still be considered your home.

Immediately, after either parent dies, you are plunged into the sharp, painful nostalgia that accompanies the recollections of childhood–everything your mother or father represented in terms of security, familiarity, and protection seems to be gone. You’re now forced to cope with the loss of parental love and attention that was given, uniquely, to you, and that you depended on, possibly even took for granted. To one degree or another, you grapple with the realization that no one knows you in the exact same way as your mother or father–indeed, will ever know you as your parent did.

You may have depended on your parent for advice or information, or for moral support, and now have to get by without that dependable resource. Such an adjustment will be tormenting, especially if you had a pattern of interactions–conversations at certain times of the day or week, or nearly daily visits.

If you were in a caretaking role, you may have set up your schedule to accommodate your parent’s needs. Not tending to all those chores and responsibilities may leave an emptiness at the center of your life that aches to be filled. And if you were the child most involved with helping your parent, it’s possible that other family members will now see you as caretaker and decision-maker for them, too–a situation sometimes complicated by the fact that siblings less involved may consider their grief to be more significant than yours.

But every survivor is vulnerable to a whole range of powerful feelings such as devastation, fear, abandonment, remorse, frustration, yearning, isolation, or confusion. And if you’ve been a caregiver who is now physically or emotionally exhausted, you will doubtless experience some relief as well, even though it may be sadly intertwined with longing.

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