When Your Parent Dies

 By John Kennedy Saynor ~ 

Have you ever noticed that there is an unspoken hierarchy of loss in our society?  By that I mean there are some deaths which generate a lot of support and some very little.  Think of it.  In workshops I have conducted the following list has been created suggesting you will receive a lot of support after the death of a child or a spouse. But for   most other losses you will find yourself without much support at all.

We are at a point in history when a large percentage of the population find themselves faced with the death or potential death of their parents.  It is a time when children watch their parents deteriorate physically and often mentally.  It is a very difficult time.   

Why is the death of a parent so difficult? 

The following is a summary of some of the factors that make the death of a parent so difficult.

* If parents die when they are elderly, their death may be dismissed by Oh well, she had a good life didn’t she?  If someone says this to you, you can be sure the person saying it doesn’t understand the relationship you had with your parent.  It may make you feel you don’t have reason to grieve.  This is not true.

* It may be that your parents are the most influential and powerful people in your life.  Their death means the loss of someone whose advice you value and from whom you may seek approval.

* When a parent dies, you may lose someone who loves you and cares for you in a way that nobody else does.  On the other hand, it may be your relationship with your parent was an abusive one.  You may, in all honesty, be glad he or she is dead. If that is the case, there will be a lot of unresolved issues and feelings for you to work through.

* The death of a parent brings with it the loss of ties to your childhood and the past.  Parents are often the glue that holds a family together.  Their death may mean the break-up of the family.

* The death of a parent may be the catalyst for increased tension among the survivors.  Tensions among siblings that have been suppressed for years often explode following a parent’s death.

* When your parents have both died, you graduate to become the older generation in your family.  A buffer between you and death is removed and you become more aware of your own mortality.

* The death of your second parent means that you are an orphan.  The direction, guidance and security your parents may have offered is gone forever.  You can no longer Ago home.

* The death of an aging parent often follows a lengthy illness or deterioration of physical or mental health.  Family members may find themselves physically and emotionally exhausted.   If your parents were younger, you may already overwhelmed with the demands of your family or career.  You may find your siblings or other family members unable to provide the support you expected to receive from them.

* It may be that there are many things you wish you had said or done.  This is a common experience.  If this is the case, seek help from a professional who can help you work through some of the guilt you may experience.


Here are some tips that may help you and the rest of the family recover from the death of your parents.

1. Resist the temptation to dismiss their death as timely or inevitable.   While this is one way to rationalize the loss, it doesn’t touch your emotions.  You have experienced a significant loss and you need to take time to grieve.  The majority of people whose parents die are employed full time.  The mandatory three day bereavement leave isn’t enough time to deal with this loss. Be aware of the need to adjust your personal schedule to take time to grieve.

2. Work at keeping the lines of communication open between you and your siblings.  They understand more than anyone what your loss entails.  Remember, each member of the family has a personal loss and each will mourn the death of your parent for different reasons.   

3. Find one or two close friends with whom you can talk.  People often say, My friends don’t want to hear about this!  All your friends won’t, but ask one or two for permission to use them as sounding boards.  There are also professionals you may call on: your doctor, your clergy, a counsellor or your funeral director.

4. Do something to memorialize your parent. This could be a donation to a favourite charity.  It could be a memorial in your family church.  If possible you may want to create a permanent memorial at his or her college or university.  Perhaps you would like to plant a tree in their memory.

5. Draw on the resources of your faith to sustain you.  How does your faith or spirituality address the issue of dying?  How does it help you make sense of life.  Does it help you answer your questions?

Kahil Gibran has written,   And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and seek God unencumbered.

6. Although your parent is physically dead, he or she will continue to live through you.  The values they gave you will affect you – for better, or worse – for the rest of your life.  Take what is good from them and incorporate it more fully into your life…and be thankful for the good they gave you.

©John Kennedy Saynor.  Used with permission

Copies of this brochure are available at The Ross Funeral Chapel in Port Hope, Ontario. For further information about how to access this brochure as well as others in the series, please call Jamieson Ross at 905-885-4931 or email him at rfc@eagle.ca.

Kahil Gibran has written,   And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and seek God unencumbered.