When your parent passes away

3 min read

Coping with the death of your mother or father

  • The death of a parent is something almost everyone will experience, and each person will grieve differently.

  • You may surprise yourself with your reaction. Everything from sadness to rage to relief is common and completely normal.

  • You may feel yourself reverting to childlike feelings.

  • If you have a surviving parent, it’s a good idea to stay in close touch because of the toll grief can take on their health.

The death of a parent is a profound milestone in life, a universal and individual experience all at once.

If your parent passed away when you were in elementary school, that is a much different experience than if they died in their 90s.

And yet, no matter how old you are when a parent dies, you’re still grieving your first shoulder to cry on, your first teacher, and your first—and most important—role model.

For these reasons, and countless others that are specific to your mother or father, grieving a parent can bring up complicated feelings.

It’s OK to feel a range of emotions

Parental relationships are especially intimate. After all, when they begin, you are helpless and completely dependent on your parents.

As you grow up, the connection evolves. And in some cases, especially if your parent grows old enough to depend on you for their care, you may even switch roles.

You may be surprised by the emotions that come up after such a tremendous loss. If you had a close, happy relationship you may feel angry and abandoned by your beloved parent. And if you had a troubled relationship or experienced abuse from your parent, you may find yourself in deep mourning.

And it is common to feel relief and even a sense of lightness, especially if their health and quality of life were poor—which can often lead to guilt.

All of these reactions are completely normal and common; there is no reason to feel guilty for any emotions that come up.

For any loss, there is no "right" way to grieve. That is particularly true when it comes to our parents.

You may feel like a kid again

Even if you have been out of the house for decades, you may miss your parent in an visceral way, almost like a child: imagining the feel of being lifted into their arms, the sound of their voice telling you everything’s going to be OK, the smell of your favorite home-cooked meals.

No matter how old you are when a parent dies, you are living for the first time without them.

No matter how old you are when a parent dies, you are living for the first time without them. Comprehending that enormous loss is a process that looks and feels different for everyone.

Your other parent may need help

Grief can have a big impact physical and mental health, and it is normal and common for cognitive function in particular to be impaired.

For an elderly parent whose spouse has passed away, this may be noticeable since they may have already been experiencing age-related cognitive decline.

In addition, if they were their spouse’s caregiver, that can put extra strain on their health as well. It is a good idea to check in on them often, and if you can comfort each other in your grief, all the better.