We all know that death is a natural and unpreventable part of life — but knowing that doesn’t make losing a loved one any easier.
When that loved one is a parent, it can leave you adrift in a way you’ve never experienced before. It’s difficult to come to terms with living without them, whether their death was sudden or slow, whether they lived a long life or left the world too soon.
No matter what your relationship with your parent was like, losing them is a huge life event.
If you’ve recently lost a parent, our hearts go out to you and your loved ones. Remember that everyone grieves in different ways, and that healing from this type of loss is a complicated, and so, so hard. Be gentle with yourself, and remind yourself that it’s okay to grieve.
Here are some things that we’ve learned will change after the loss of a parent.
1. YOU’RE MORE ANXIOUS & DEPRESSED
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Everyday tasks can seem enormous after the loss of a parent. Even small, mundane things like doing the dishes or going for a walk can trigger a staggering flood of memories. Some days may be better than others, and you may find yourself feeling guilty for experiencing happiness in the midst of your grief. It can feel like you’re doing things “wrong” or that if you don’t do thing a certain way, you’re letting others down.
Research has shown that losing a parent can make you more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
2. YOU’RE IRRITATED WHEN OTHERS COMPLAIN ABOUT THEIR PARENTS
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Lots of people complain about their parents — it’s a rite of passage — but doing so doesn’t mean they love them any less. However, it takes on a deeper meaning now, and you may find yourself irrationally angry or irritated when someone harps about their overbearing mom, or nosy dad.
It’s natural to feel like this, or even to feel jealous that they have a parent to complain about. The embarrassing stories your parent would tell about you or their unsolicited advice may have driven you bonkers, but you’d happily deal with that again if it would bring them back.
3. YOU FEEL THE GRIEF IN YOUR BODY
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Grief can be a very physical thing. It may sound crazy, but your body can indeed get physically ill from the emotional grief of losing a parent. You may feel exhausted, achy, or feverish; you may endure pounding headaches and crazy swings in your appetite.
Men are more likely to experience these types of physical side effects than women after losing a parent. Remember to take care of yourself.
4. YOU LEARN TO LIVE WITH SADNESS
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Most of us know the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But those stages don’t happen in a neat, orderly fashion, and once you hit acceptance, it doesn’t mean you’ll never feel angry or depressed about the loss of your parent again.
You’ll never stop missing your parent. But one day, hopefully, you will learn to accept that they’re gone. You’ll have good days and bad days, but you will make progress in moving forward.
If the grief doesn’t dissipate and is so severe it’s interfering with your daily life after some time has passed, reach out to others and consider seeking medical help.
5. HOLIDAYS AREN’T THE SAME
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Most of us have traditions around the holidays that were created by our parents. Those traditions can continue on through adulthood; they aren’t just confined to childhood.
The first holidays you experience without your parent will feel strange. You may feel lonely, or sad, or may want to avoid traditions that you used to love because they’re too painful. It’s okay to celebrate your old traditions or create new ones — you may have to just do whatever it is that will make the holiday bearable that first year. You will learn how to make the holidays meaningful again, though they may never feel quite the same.
6. YOU ACCEPT THEIR FLAWS
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As children, our parents seem invincible. They know everything, can fix anything, and are real-life heroes to us.
But as we get older, we see them as regular people, just like us. They have flaws and they make mistakes. They’re not perfect.
After your parent is gone, it may be easier to come to terms with past grievances you had or grudges you held. Eventually, you may be able to forgive them for things you used to hold on to very tightly.
7. YOUR EMOTIONS ARE COMPLICATED
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You don’t only feel sad, or just feel angry. You may feel a little bit of everything. You might feel guilty, or afraid, or even relieved. It’s okay to have negative feelings about your parent or the loss of that parent. It’s a part of the healing process, and “logical grief” isn’t a thing. Feel your feelings, whatever they are.
8. YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SIBLINGS CHANGES
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Whether you were close to your siblings or not before your parent’s death, that may shift. Every family has a different dynamic, and parents typically influence that dynamic. Losing a leader in the family may make things complicated or confusing. It may cause friction between siblings that used to get along fine; but it also may bring estranged siblings closer together.
There is no one else who will understand your grief like your sibling will, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll experience it in the same way. Try to support one another as you work through your grief.
9. YOU’LL TRY TO CALL THEM
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When something happens that would normally make you call your parent, you may momentarily forget they’re gone and try to call or text them. It’s a habit that’s hard to break. It’s not uncommon to do this, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. It can make their loss feel fresh and incredibly painful all over again.
10. YOU LEARN HOW STRONG LOVE IS
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Even though your parent is gone, you will realize that your love for them — and theirs for you — still exists in the world. It’s in the memories you have of them. It’s in the traditions you’ve built. It may be bittersweet, but knowing your love for them goes on can bring some comfort. And this may help you get through those really tough days.