Cope with death of a parent

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  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Also visit the online treatment locator.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

Also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service.

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Last Updated: 08/30/2022

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How to survive the death of parents -

Psychotherapist Maria Sergunina tells how to survive one of the most terrible events in life, what to do to make it easier, and how friends and relatives can help in such a situation.

Why tears and tantrums are normal

“The death of a parent brings more than just pain. It confronts a person with the loss of his own childhood. It is the loss of support, a source of support, and the bitter realization that "I'm next. " Often the death of parents is also the need to take the position of the eldest member of the family. So, in addition to acute grief, there is also a fear of a new life without the help of relatives.

Tears are a natural way of dealing with grief. Mourning the loss helps to express their emotions, experiences. Worse, if this does not happen - feelings are locked deep inside, and sadness does not find a way out.

Neither a person nor his relatives need to be afraid of violent emotional manifestations. It is important for the relatives of a person who has lost their parents to remain calm, ensure safety and provide support. It is worth intervening only in case of a threat to human life and health. If the situation gets out of control, it is better to seek help from specialists. You may need mild medication, but you should not take medication without a doctor's prescription.

How to accept the idea that the death of parents is inevitable

Death is treated differently in different cultures. For example, for some traditional societies, death is not a fatal end, but a transition from one state to another, the highest transformation available to a person. In our reality, the topic of death is taboo, and the attitude towards it is rather negative, it is rarely perceived as a natural part of life. It is not customary in families to discuss death, to prepare children for this. If the property issue is somehow touched upon, the conversation about how to react to death, what emotions to experience, does not rise.

Death is not accepted immediately. This is a process that takes a lot of time and has a number of patterns. Conventionally, it can be divided into four phases:

  • the first phase is shock, stupor. This state overtakes immediately after the loss. It is based on natural psychological defense mechanisms necessary to preserve the human psyche. This period emotionally prepares for the process of mourning;
  • second phase - denial, longing. At this stage, a person tries to resist the inevitability of loss, to find an opportunity not to face emotional pain;
  • third phase - anger and subsequent despair. This is the most acute stage, during which the emotional disorganization of the personality often occurs. It may be accompanied by accusations, feelings of injustice, intense emotional pain and guilt;
  • fourth phase - acceptance, reorganization of life. At this stage, a person begins to adapt to life without the deceased and gradually psychologically releases him.

But these are not universal stages. Each person experiences grief individually, and there are no uniform rules on how he should do it.

A person can get stuck in some phase. For example, he already seemed to be able to return to life, but he remembers his parents too often, his main topic of conversation is his parents. Over time, this can worsen relationships with others, especially a partner or children, and develop into a serious problem. It is worth sounding the alarm only if this period is prolonged and this interferes with the adequate functioning of a person. For some reason, relationships with the dead are more important to him than with the living. There is something in this relationship that needs to be completed. In such a situation, it is best to contact a psychologist who specializes in working with the loss of loved ones. As a self-help method, you can write a letter to the deceased and list everything that is left unsaid there. It can begin with the words "I have long wanted to tell you."

What will improve a person's condition and what will only aggravate

Engagement in life itself helps to return to life - communication, walks, healthy eating, daily routine, helping relatives. When the funeral rituals are over, it is important to get rid of the belongings of the deceased and put the photos in albums. This is necessary in order not to get stuck in the second phase: when a person is not there, but many objects remind of him. Ideally, repairs can be made - both actual and symbolic renewal of space.

Completely going into work or everyday life, running away from your feelings, is not an option. Unexpressed feelings continue to live inside and cause discomfort to a person - attention and memory deteriorate, psychosomatic disorders develop. However, inaction and apathy can also serve as a start for depression. Therefore, it is important to find space for yourself and your feelings, but also not to fall out of social life for a long time, gradually adapt to life without parents.

Abuse of alcohol and other psychoactive substances is a bad idea. It happens that people cannot mourn the loss without alcohol. At first glance, it may seem that this helps to overcome the emotional barrier, and subsequently anesthetizes. But it often happens that alcohol consumption is addictive and develops into a serious problem. In addition, do not inflict emotional and physical harm on yourself: self-flagellation, the cultivation of guilt, prolonged isolation, refusal of food, thoughts of suicide.

How friends can help

It all depends on the circumstances and the emotional state of the person who has lost a parent. It happens that he is not able to perceive words or listens to condolences only out of politeness, without feeling the slightest relief. At the same time, it is very important that someone be with him, although he still needs to retire.

In my opinion, the most effective help in such a situation is simply to ask if you need help and in what way. Or unobtrusively ask: “Can I stay with you?”, “How are you feeling?” These questions already imply care and support. One should not pity and treat the grieving - only he can know what is best for him.

Children who have lost their parents often feel guilty about their actions or inactions, they think that they could have influenced the situation, but did not. In this state, a person, as a rule, is looking for confirmation that he did everything that depended on him. He needs help with this.

The death of loved ones, in addition to emotional severity, is also associated with the organization of funerals, commemorations, communication with relatives, and legal issues. Here the help of friends and relatives is simply necessary, especially when faced with bureaucracy, rudeness and fraud. During the mourning period, a person becomes very vulnerable to pressure and manipulation and needs protection.

When a person gets better

In practice, it often happens that it is simply not possible to fall out of everyday life. This is what is considered the source of the problem. When someone close dies, after the shock, a lot of cases immediately appear regarding funerals, commemorations, notification of relatives, execution of all legal documents - and all these cases must be resolved. Then the person is faced with delayed grief syndrome. When there is simply no time for feelings, they are postponed for some time - it can “cover” in a month or more. And here the mechanism of the compressed spring works.

As for the dates, everything is individual, but there are traditional memorial dates - 9 and 40 days. During this time, the primary assimilation of feelings and inclusion in everyday life occurs. The commemoration rituals are designed to symbolically say goodbye to the deceased and support each other at the moment of mourning for him.

However, the process of coping with loss does not end when a person is fully included in social life. On average, it is considered that the process of mourning lasts one and a half years. During this time, the severity of experiences decreases, and the person has time to adapt to the changes that have occurred in life in connection with the death of a parent. If it lasts much longer, the person is stuck in one of the stages, you should contact the specialists.

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Man among men Know thyself

I was orphaned at the age of 52. Despite my adult age and professional experience, the death of my father turned my life upside down. They say it's like losing a part of yourself. But I had the feeling that the anchor of my self-identity had been cut off.

Shock, numbness, denial, anger, sadness and despair are the range of emotions that people experience when they lose a loved one. These feelings do not leave us for many more months. For many, they appear without a certain sequence, losing their sharpness over time. But my personal fog did not dissipate for more than half a year.

The process of mourning takes time, and people around us sometimes show impatience - they want us to get better as soon as possible. But someone continues to acutely experience these feelings for many years after the loss. This ongoing mourning can have cognitive, social, cultural, and spiritual implications.

Grief, Addiction and Mental Disorder

Research shows that the loss of a parent can increase the risk of long-term emotional and mental problems such as depression, anxiety and drug addiction.

This is especially true when a person does not receive full support during the period of bereavement and does not find full-fledged adoptive parents if relatives died too early. The death of a father or mother in childhood significantly increases the chances of developing mental health problems. Approximately one in 20 children under the age of 15 is affected by the loss of one or both parents.

Sons who have lost their fathers experience the loss more difficult than daughters, and women have a harder time reconciling with the death of their mothers

Another decisive factor in the occurrence of such consequences is the degree of closeness of the child with the deceased parent and the scale of the impact of the tragic event on his entire future life. And this does not mean at all that people are easier to experience the loss of someone with whom they were less close. I can say with confidence that in this case, the experience of loss can be even deeper.

The long-term consequences of the loss of a parent have been studied repeatedly. It turned out that this affects both mental and physical health, with the latter more often manifested in men. In addition, sons who have lost their fathers are more difficult to experience the loss than daughters, and women have a harder time reconciling with the death of their mothers.

It's time to seek help

Research on bereavement theory has helped to understand how to help people traumatized by the death of their parents. It is very important to focus on a person's personal resources and his ability to self-heal. It is important that significant relatives and family members provide him with comprehensive assistance. In the event that a person is experiencing complicated grief that continues long after the death of a loved one, additional measures and mental health screening may be needed.

Each of us copes with the loss of loved ones in our own way and at our own pace, and it can be very difficult to recognize at what stage sadness turns into a chronic complex disorder. This prolonged form of pathological grief is usually accompanied by prolonged painful experiences, and it seems that a person is not able to accept the loss and move on even months and years after the death of a loved one.

The Path of Rehabilitation

The stages of recovery after the death of a parent include an important stage when we allow ourselves to experience the pain of loss. This helps us gradually begin to realize what happened and move forward. As we heal, we regain the ability to enjoy our relationships with others. But if we continue to obsess and overreact to any reminders of the past, professional help is needed.

Communication with a specialist supports and helps to talk openly about sadness, frustration or anger, learns to cope with these feelings and simply allow them to manifest. Family counseling may also be helpful in this situation.

It becomes easier for us to live and let go of grief if we do not hide feelings, thoughts and memories

The death of one of the parents can bring back old pain and resentment and have a significant impact on family system processes. A family therapist helps to separate old and new conflicts, shows constructive ways to eliminate them and improve relationships. You can also find an appropriate support group that can help you feel less closed off in your grief.

Prolonged mourning quite often leads to "self-medication" with the help of alcohol or drugs. In this case, both problems must be solved simultaneously and require double rehabilitation in the respective centers and clinics.

Finally, self-care is another important part of recovery. It becomes easier for us to live and let go of grief if we do not hide feelings, thoughts and memories. Healthy eating, proper sleep, exercise and enough time to mourn and rest are what everyone needs in such a situation.

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