An unqualified guide to grieving the death of a parent as an adult
There are thousands of blogs and expert-authored articles out there about how to grieve. This is not one of them. I am not qualified to talk about grief or the grieving process with any authority.
Having lost my brother as a young adult, I only know from my experience that the 5 stages of grief isn’t a nice, tidy graduation from denial to anger to bargaining to depression and finally acceptance. I know it to be more like a long journey to a place you can’t imagine with no directions and countless chances of going around in circles.
But now, as a ‘proper grown-up’ and mother to a young son, grieving is even more complicated, blinding, and overwhelming. My dear dad passed away peacefully after a long spell of ill health. He died at home in the early hours of one Sunday morning not so long ago.
Although he’d been sick for a number of years, nothing prepared me for the feeling of loss that swallowed me whole when he passed away. Knowing him to be so full of life and then seeing him with no soul left in his body is probably one of the saddest moments I can recall.
So, my writing to you today is more cathartic then academic – it’s a small, flawed collection of advice that has helped me cope – and that may help you.*
Gratefully accept every act of kindness
For some of us (me), asking for help is the worst. We want to be self-sufficient, strong and dare I say, ‘emotionally independent.’ I don’t like admitting to friends and family that I’m feeling low. I don’t like talking about the anxiety that’s taken front and center in the last few weeks.
Most of all, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. So instead, I accepted every flower, message, phone call, kind word, gesture, and Woolies lasagna with gratitude and the knowing that when nobody knows what to say, say thank you.
Supporting your children to grieve
One of the hardest parts of losing my dad was watching my son lose his much-loved
grandpa. I don’t know how exactly to help my son, but I’ve chosen to be honest and vulnerable with him. To show him that it’s ok to miss his grandpa and that I miss him too – and most of all, that I am here for him.
He’s caught me crying a few times and the compassion he’s shown me has been remarkable for an 8-year-old boy, and it reminds me of what my dad was like.
Lean on a few vices
This is definitely not intended to be medical advice so please don’t take my word for it but in my case, a glass of wine in the evenings (a rarity for me) was relaxing. Don’t go on a drug fuelled bender but stay in bed all Sunday watching Netflix. Stay up late listening to sad music or go to bed early to stop thinking for a while. Spend a few nights away from home in a new, beautiful place – just because.
Be ok with the prospect of disappointing people
We don’t live in a world that leaves much room for grief. We’ve got to get back to work,
school, routine, bills & commitments.
But for me, clients had to wait a bit longer than usual sometimes. I didn’t accept every invitation to socialise or see friends and family. I didn’t answer every phone call immediately, nor did I look at my messages after a certain time at night. I would get back to them, but when I could and that was as much as I could do.
Accept that everyone grieves differently
The last of the flowers had wilted and died by the time I brought my dad’s ashes home to give to my mother. She, up until then, had been stoic and numb for weeks after my dad, her husband of 44 years, passed away.
But eventually, she came to the realisation that my dad wasn’t coming back and sought comfort in her friends, family, and church. Still brave in front of my son and I, but at the very least – there was and is room for everyone to grieve in their own way, in their own time.
So that’s it. That’s some of what I’ve experienced so far and some of what’s helped me to cope. I know it gets easier with time. I know that sadness and happy memories can live in the same heart at once. I know that I will never stop missing him. But for now, it’s the little things that make the days more bearable.
I hope there’s something in here that will help you find comfort too, even for a short time. As for me, I will carry on - the proud adult daughter of a natural born father who owes much of who I am to him. I know I am lucky to have had that kind of love in my life and will treasure it for always.
If you need support when a loved-one is preparing to pass-on, rest assured that our team of experienced carers is here for you and your loved-one. Give yourself the time, space and reassurance that the end of a life can be an experience of kindness, compassion and dignity.
*If you are suffering from depression or feeling like you can’t cope, please seek medical advice & treatment from your doctor.