The Death of a Parent: A Challenging Loss


sad-woman9Marilyn felt a mixture of emotions when she visited her mother’s grave just 3 days after her funeral. Marilyn had always been very proud of her mother, Janet. Janet raised Marilyn and her younger brother on her own. Marilyn’s father had left the family when she was only 4 years old. Marilyn had many positive memories of her mother and brother from her childhood.

The teenage years were a completely different story. Marilyn and Janet fought almost daily. Even though only 19 years separated them, it seems as though Marilyn and Janet had come from different planets. Marilyn viewed her mother as old-fashioned, critical, and overly strict. It didn’t help that Marilyn felt her mother gave her brother more freedom and approval. Furthermore, lack of money always put a strain on the entire family.

Their relationship improved after Marilyn moved out of the house, and they were the closest during the last four months of her mother’s life. Marilyn was able to provide care for her mother and was at every doctor’s appointment as her cancer worsened – even when they found out that treatment wouldn’t prolong Janet’s life.

Marilyn’s brother wanted to ignore the situation. When he did voice an opinion it was to argue for continuing treatment – even though 2 oncologists had confirmed that it would not improve Janet’s quality of life and would not give her more time.

Marilyn treasured the last few conversations she had with her mother. Janet apologized for being so hard on her – she had only wanted to prepare Marilyn for the real world and didn’t want her to have to struggle as she did. Janet expressed pride at how Marilyn had turned out and how she was able to rely on her during her illness. Marilyn was thankful for this new understanding of her mother, yet saddened that the reconciliation hadn’t happened sooner.

Marilyn’s situation highlights several examples of why the loss of a parent can be so complicated. Let’s review a few ways that the loss of a parent may be especially challenging:

Caregiving & End of Life Decisions

Almost 50% of individuals in the US use hospice services before their death. Many adult children are caregivers for their parents before and during hospice care. Furthermore, caring for a parent means that someone must make a decision about when to enter hospice care and where the care will be provided. In some cases, adult children may be required to make end-of-life decisions about removing life-sustaining care. These are some of the most difficult decisions that adult children have to make. And although they may eventually find peace with their decisions, it is common to second-guess these choices and feel guilt.

Making Decisions with Siblingscanstockphoto11816976

Furthermore, many of the caregiving and end-of-live decisions are made in conjunction with siblings (and perhaps a surviving parent). Other decisions that must be agreed upon include funeral service arrangements, a place of final disposition, and financial decisions after the loss. While some siblings agree easily on these topics, many siblings fight and argue over these decisions – adding further stress to a difficult time.

Complicated Relationship

We’ve typically known our parents longer than anyone else. Perhaps your parents made poor decisions, treated you badly, or were even entirely absent. Or maybe your parents were supportive, and yet, your family experienced difficult times. Regardless of the specifics, your parents shaped who you are. This may be the result of your parents being positive role models – or even an example of what not to do.

Rarely are parent-child relationships simple. We may appreciate some things they’ve done while wishing they had done others differently. We may feel close to them in some ways, yet completely different in others. After the death of a parent, the complexity of the relationship can be reflected in our grief.

Dealing with Finances and Personal Items

Especially when there are no surviving parents, adult children often must deal with numerous financial decisions. Children must deal with their parents’ possessions and their residence. These decisions are can be complicated by legal issues and waiting for the estate to be settled. Again, all siblings may not agree on these decisions – and sibling disagreements may further add to your grief and stress.

A Challenging Loss

The loss of a parent can include many complicating factors that can create additional stress and pain. Furthermore, I believe adult children often receive less support because other people assume the loss was expected or believe it wasn’t very significant. When we add these issues to factors I’ve mentioned, the loss of a parent can be especially challenging.

You may find one of my ebooklets helpful if you have experienced the loss of a parent:



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