Learning How to Process through Pain after Losing a Parent
There are some situations in life the world prepares us for. When we are children we are taught to be respectful and polite, so we can someday be functional human beings. We are taught how to type, how to spell, and how to read; all so someday we can grow up to use those skills and pursue the profession we dream of. The world we live in generally does a great job preparing us for the events of life we’ll experience as we grow older. Unfortunately, we are never taught how to deal with some painful events that will inevitably happen. One of these events is death; specifically grieving the loss of a parent. Sometimes the most preparation we get is through movies like Bambi and The Lion King where we watched some of our favorite characters lose their parents. When death occurs, to some people it is an obituary to flip through in the newspaper. To others, it’s another person who is in Heaven. To those of us who are close to those who have died, it is a deep sorrow not many will know or understand. Below are some helpful thoughts that offer peace, comfort, and some understanding of grief’s rollercoaster…
The following are the five stages of grief described in the book “On Grief and Grieving” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. I do believe everyone has their own grief experience, but the following stages are the responses many people have and may provide INSIGHT into what you may be feeling. The stages are the following:
Grief and Grieving
This does not mean you do not know your parent has died. It means you come home and you cannot believe your dad is not going to walk in the door any minute or your mom is not going to pick up the phone after your rough day at work. Often times denial is what our mind runs to because the pain we experience of losing a loved one is too intense to handle. This helps us to survive the loss. Some questions one might ask oneself during this stage would be:
- Is it true?
- Did it really happen?
- Are they really gone?
- How did this happen?
- Did it have to happen?
- Could anything have prevented it?
The eternal nature of the loss begins to set in after asking questions like these. It will begin to hit you mom or dad is not coming back and you will not get to see them coming through the front door or hear their voice again. This stage is NATURAL. You may experience something familiar to this.
This stage can manifest itself in different ways. It could be anger at the doctor for not trying harder to save your mom. Anger you did not see this coming and could not prepare yourself for the pain. Anger your dad did not take better care of himself. Anger you did not get more time with your loved one. Anger you could not stop it from happening. You may even be angry with God. Some questions many of my clients experiencing anger often ask:
- “Where is God in this?”
- “Where is his love?”
- “Why would he let them die this way?”
- “Is this God’s will?
- “Why would God decide to take him now?”
These feelings of anger are usually UNCOMFORTABLE and we usually suppress anger because of this. During this stage of anger it is important you allow yourself to feel it and explore it. Kubler-Ross & Kessler write, “Anger affirms that you can feel, that you did love, and that you have lost,” . Anger, although it is uncomfortable, makes you connect to the loss in a way that denial did not provide. As you deal with the anger and allow yourself to experience it, the more feelings you will find underneath. It is important during this stage to not judge yourself for being angry. You most likely will feel guilty for having anger. You will need to practice being kind and graceful to yourself during this time.
This is often times when one will become lost in the “if only…” or “what ifs…” Most people in this stage desperately desire for life to return to the way it was before their parent passed. “Bargaining can help our mind move from one state of loss to another. It can be a way station that gives our psyche the time it may need to adjust. Bargaining may fill the gaps that our strong emotions generally dominate, which often keep suffering at a distance,”. During this stage of grief we often believe that some type of order can be restored to the chaos even though our heart will eventually arrive at the same reality that our parent is gone.
During this stage it is important to understand depression is a part of the PROCESS and is not necessarily tied to a mental illness. It is appropriate deep pain and sadness would ensue after losing someone you have known your entire life. Daily activities may seem pointless and mundane. Most people will want to get you out of your depression and you will at times feel scared of where you are at. It is important you allow yourself to experience this depression. It is important that you allow yourself to experience the sadness that comes with the loss of your parent. This depression will serve its purpose in your GRIEF PROCESS. This stage is frightening and something you may or may not feel you need help in processing. It is important to seek out a professional for help if you feel as though your depression persists over a long period of time.
Acceptance is NOT being happy about what happened or forgetting about it. It is about accepting your mom or dad has passed and they will never return. This is where you accept there is a permanency to their death. Where we learn to live without them being around and adjust to the lack of their presence in our lives. “Acceptance is a process that we experience, not a final stage with an end point,” . Acceptance does not happen OVERNIGHT AND MAY BE A NEVER-ENDING PROCESS. It is often hard during this stage to want to enjoy life. Once you begin functioning without your parent and begin having fun in life again you may feel guilty enjoying life without them. Working through these feelings will also be essential. In this stage you will learn to GROW and EVOLVE as time goes on.
It is important that those who have lost parents ALLOW themselves to go through this passage of grief. Grief is not something that can just be fixed or gotten over. It takes time to heal. It does not happen over night nor should it. Below are some helpful thoughts for those who are in need of guidance during this difficult time:
- God is with you. He is not even just with you- He is near you. The Bible states, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,” (Psalm 34:18, ESV). It will be difficult for you to feel as though anyone will understand your pain during this time. Even though you may not whisper a word to Him, GOD UNDERSTANDS YOUR PAIN and is experiencing it with you.
- It is OKAY to take time for yourself. During this time it can be tempting to turn to drugs, alcohol, overworking, etc. to drown out the pain. It is important that that you decide to take care of yourself in a HEALTHY manner. Learning how to do this can be challenging when turning to drugs, alcohol, or work is easier. Also, during this time you may have a lot of obligations at work, with school, or with children. It is important that you take consistent time to care for yourself. Jesus lost one of His cousins whom He deeply loved. Jesus was busy taking care of many people who were vying for His attention constantly, but instead of tending to them in that moment He took some time to get away from the crowds. The Bible states, “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place,” (Matthew 14:13). Jesus took time to do self-care by getting away to be alone during that tumultuous and painful time in his life. We need to do what is needed to care for ourselves, as well.
- SEEK HELP! It is hard to seek help when you lose a parent. Often times when you needed help you may or may not have looked to your parent, who is now no longer there to guide you. Know that if you need help it is AVAILABLE TO YOU. You should never have to walk alone through you pain. Sometimes seeking professional help from a therapist can be beneficial to help you process and manage the intensity of emotion you are experiencing.
Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief
Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York: Scribner.
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