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Grief may be the most neglected and misunderstood of all emotions. We’re often sheltered from it as children. Later, we’re urged to “move on” and “stay strong.” Our lack of respect for the impact of grief lends it even more power. In the case of losing a parent, we may find ourselves particularly lost.So often, we lean on a parent in times of sorrow. But what do we do when the sorrow results from the death of a parent?

Understanding the Experience of Loss

When someone dies, we can recognize that a loss has occurred. But, we know it’s so much more than not being able to see that person anymore. We are left to mourn a relationship — with all the nuanced factors that go along with any connection. In each relationship, particularly close relationships, we tap into different versions of ourselves. When a loved one dies, a version of us is lost, too.

For better or for worse, there may be no more complex version of you than that of someone’s child. Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time around at least one parent. We learn and grow and evolve as a social animal in relation to that parent. This is a complicated, often invisible, set of interactions that are left behind upon losing them.

Studies show, over and over, that it is foolhardy to underestimate the role grief plays in our lives. It matters not how old you are or what precise variables were present in your child-parent relationship. This is a fundamental loss. Thus, it requires our full attention. In one form or another, it will require our full attention from now on.

6 Ways to Help Yourself Heal After Losing a Parent

1. Accept the Condolence Advice But Mostly Ignore It

“They’re in a better place” and “they’d want you to get over it” are but two of the lines you’ll hear often. People mean well but most of us fall back on the usual condolences. Accept the attempt with gratitude but allow yourself to feel what you need to feel.

2. Go Through Possessions, etc. When It Feels Right

If you have the luxury of setting your own timeline, don’t be rushed into actions you’re not ready to take. If you must do things quickly, ask for help.

3. Create Personal Rituals

Find unique and creative ways to honor your parent’s memory and your personal connection to them.

4. Expect Setbacks

Understand that you can and will be hit with waves of grief, seemingly out of nowhere. This is not unusual. If it becomes unmanageable, seek support (see below).

5. Recognize Grief as an Ongoing and Necessary Process

There is no need to set an artificial deadline. Grief is not something to “finish” or hide from. In fact, it’s only natural that you’d miss someone more as time passes. Honor this process.

6. Practice Daily Self-Care

Fortify yourself with healthy eating habits, regular sleep patterns, daily activity, and stress management.

When Grief Becomes Complicated

Research has found that losing a parent can lead to an increased chance of long-term emotional issues. We are at a higher risk for mental health conditions — ranging from anxiety to substance abuse to depression and beyond. Sustained grief can evolve into complicated grief. This is why we need to talk and be supported by those we trust. We don’t want to be impatiently dismissed as not being able to “let go.” We need help.

Whether it is a system of loved ones or a professional counselor (or both), please allow that grief caused by losing your parent need not be rushed, ignored, or managed alone. To learn more about me and the services I offer, please check out my website or contact me to set up a free consultation.