A friend of mine, a hefty, 6-foot-4, middle-aged rancher in Colorado walked out one early morning to inform his foreman and ranch hands, "I'll be gone today and tomorrow." Then, with tears in his eyes, he told the men, "I'm going home to bury my mama."

The sentiments of this rugged character are universal. Regardless of your age, size, occupation or gender, when your mother dies, you are still that mother's child. She is still your mama and the place where she raised you may still be considered your home.

Immediately, after either parent dies, you are plunged into the sharp, painful nostalgia that accompanies the recollections of childhood--everything your mother or father represented in terms of security, familiarity, and protection seems to be gone. You're now forced to cope with the loss of parental love and attention that was given, uniquely, to you, and that you depended on, possibly even took for granted. To one degree or another, you grapple with the realization that no one knows you in the exact same way as your mother or father--indeed, will ever

know you as your parent did.

You may have depended on your parent for advice or information, or for moral support, and now have to get by without that dependable resource. Such an adjustment will be tormenting, especially if you had a pattern of interactions--conversations at certain times of the day or week, or nearly daily visits.

. . . no one knows you in the exact same way as your mother or father--indeed, will ever know you as your parent did.

If you were in a caretaking role, you may have set up your schedule to accomodate your parent's needs. Not tending to all those chores and responsibilities may leave an emptiness at the center of your life that aches to be filled. And if you were the child most involved with helping your parent, it's possible that other family members will now see you as caretaker and decision-maker for them, too--a situation sometimes complicated by the fact that siblings less involved may consider their grief to be more significant than yours.

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.

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.