When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.Dalai Lama
I could never imagine losing a parent, but there was a time in life; I called “the golden era.”
Everyone I loved was alive and well. I had a good job, a home, and a loving companion. What more could anyone hope to have?
Little did I know, this golden era would end too soon.
One day, out of the blue, Mum asked if I had noticed a change in Dad’s behaviour. She described how he could no longer write his signature and would often become distant.
After some tests, we discovered that my father had a brain tumour.
That instantly spelt the end of the golden era and the beginning of a painful time in our lives.
Watching someone strong become weak and bedridden, suffer seizures, and eventually drift away eats away at you.
It’s difficult to describe the tumultuous wave of feelings that come and overwhelm you. There’s the fear of coping with loss and feeling powerless because you can’t cure the illness and avoid the inevitable.
Losing a parent can feel like losing part of yourself. If they’ve always been there, helping and supporting you, it’s hard to imagine coping without them.
Getting through such a bleak period, however, proved one thing:
We are more resilient than we think.
Somewhere inside me was a strength I never thought possible. Maybe it was a lack of choice – when bad things happen, you can choose to cope or crumble.
As they did for me, I hope the following steps help others to uncover their inner strength, overcome grief, and learn to smile again.
How to Cope After Losing a Parent
1. Forgive yourself
When a parent dies, guilt can become a burden because of past arguments you now regret or maybe because you think you didn’t do enough to help them.
You should realise no parent-child relationship is ever perfect. Disputes, mistakes, and shortcomings occur on both sides and are all in the past. You were still loved, even if your parents seldom said so.
By recognising the past as something finished and unchangeable, you can begin to free yourself from guilt and reflect on the good times instead. The good times are what they would want you to remember.
2. Face your feelings
Feelings of loss or anger can grow stronger if left unchecked, primarily if you’ve never known death so close.
Exploring ways to cope with these feelings myself led to meditation. Mindfulness meditation is one way to help understand the flow of these feelings.
Imagine sitting on a riverbank watching the boats sail by. Similarly, by viewing your thoughts, you’ll see how your grief has influenced your emotions. This “watching” of thoughts creates an awareness of their impact on how you feel that, in turn, reduces the pendulum effect of emotions. By anticipating feelings, you begin to reduce their power.
3. Keep talking
The sudden reality of not being able to chat with your Mum or Dad again can be hard to accept.
For a time after losing Dad, I still chatted to him. I asked what he thought of something, but of course, I didn’t expect an answer. It was a way of getting the words out that were already in me to say.
Don’t hide from the fact that your parent is gone. Visit the grave, and chat to them in thoughts. Whatever makes you feel comfortable. Not only does it keep their memory alive, but it’s also a release for your feelings.
4. Look after you
Grief can take its toll in many ways. Loss of sleep, reduced appetite, and damaged immune system are not uncommon. The remedy is to protect your health and fitness.
Like the pre-flight safety instructions to put on your oxygen mask before helping others, protect your health first to ensure you can heal and help others do the same.
You only need to take small steps. Get walking with a friend, eat natural, unprocessed food, and stay hydrated. When your body feels strong, it will lift your mood and help you cope.
5. Take time out
During the immediate aftermath, you’ll have an overwhelming to-do list.
From making funeral arrangements to addressing legal matters. All physically and mentally exhausting.
It’s vital for your physical and mental health to rest. If you take a vacation to recuperate when things have settled, you’ll be able to return refreshed to help your family over the longer term. Never feel guilty for taking time off.
6. Avoid comparisons
During grief, we can become self-conscious of how others perceive us. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, so don’t judge your reaction to loss. You don’t need to look or behave a certain way.
A colleague once returned to work the day after his father’s funeral, which attracted comment, whereas I took several weeks off.
Don’t worry about how it looks to others or what they might think. Grief is a personal journey, so never fear judgment. Do what’s right for you.
7. Be patient
Missing a parent is natural, and if you were very close, you’d need time to adjust.
Time heals the acuteness of pain, but you may continue to miss your parent. After ten years, I still miss Dad very much. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t think of him.
Don’t wish time away in the hope you can speed up the healing process. Recovery will happen at its own natural pace.
8. Support your family
The passing of a parent can send a shockwave across the whole family. We might become withdrawn in our grief and not realise others are sharing in the loss.
So offer your hand in support of other family members. You will avoid feeling isolated if you focus on the needs of others and help other loved ones to cope.
As a devoted team, you will be able to count on each other at different times to get through the toughest periods together.
9. Enjoy precious memories
There was a time I couldn’t think of Dad without a tear. When I returned to work, I had to make a determined effort not to swell up when colleagues offered condolences.
But I discovered that I could still enjoy my Dad’s “company” by recalling the good times we shared. The laughs, the trips, and the DIY jobs that seemed to take forever.
Don’t avoid reliving your precious moments in your mind’s eye. A time will come when you smile or laugh to yourself just as you did at the time. So let your parent live on in your thoughts, and enjoy seeing them there any time you wish.
10. Accept the new you
As we get older, our opinions and outlook on life can change.
Losing a parent is one of those experiences that will change you. I became more tolerant because, to me, life’s trivia had a different context.
Worry about missing deadlines, being late for an event, or having a new gadget malfunction. Events that annoy us day to day pale into insignificance.
This change is not for the better or worse; it’s merely a change. Grief increases awareness that all things change, so prioritise what’s important.
Value and enjoy every waking moment, and let the new you grab each precious day with passion.
Unlock a New Chapter
Society often writes off losing a parent as the natural order of events, but those who’ve experienced it know how life-changing it is.
You feel hurt and loss because you have a heart, but that heart is more robust than you ever imagined.
With the steps above, the same heart can grow in confidence, beat with new hope, and become healthier than ever before. You can still enjoy life, and you should.
Life is to be cherished.
It’s what your parent would have wanted. Live your life in the knowledge they’d be happy for you.