Grieving the Death of a Parent

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But every survivor is vulnerable to a whole range of powerful feelings such as devastation, fear, abandonment, remorse, frustration, yearning, isolation, or confusion. And if you've been a caregiver who is now physically or emotionally exhausted, you will doubtless experience some relief as well, even though it may be sadly intertwined with longing.

If you did not have a mutual loving relationship with your parent, your responses to his or her death will, of course, reflect that missing bond. You may have been the victim of emotional or physical abuse; you may have had to care for yourself at too early an age; you may have witnessed parental acts of violence or impropriety. Or your parent may have revealed some unpleasant, disturbing information to you before dying. For any number of reasons, you may now be struggling with feelings of relief and release along with feelings of disappointment, dismay, guilt, anger or yearning. You wish that you could have your parent say or do the things you longed for. You wish you could understand the rejection you suffered. You may even feel robbed of the opportunity to express your anger toward your parent.

In cases such as these, grief is set in a context of unfinished business that causes a great deal of anxiety. It's important to recognize your ambivalence, or even dislike, and not be reluctant to explore and express negative feelings for fear of experiencing guilt. Working through both guilt and anger will help you to successfully come to terms with the loss. In a sense, you lost your parent before your parent died; coping now with the actual physical death means allowing your lifetime's accumulation of past conflicts and hurts to be given their due attention.

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Regardless of the particular circumstances of your loss, it is essential to express all of your emotions and to discuss your most frequent thoughts and challenges in regard to your grief. You can do this in several ways--by setting up times to talk with a friend who has also lost a parent, by joining a support group, or by talking with a pastor or counselor. What's important is that you can allow the feelings that occupy you, sometimes even overwhelm you, to come to the surface without apology. By sharing with others, you can more fully recognize just what issues are especially troublesome to you, which emotions seem all encompassing and what you are missing the most and why. Painful as it may be to face these powerful feelings, this is the route to healing.

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Carol Staudacher
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