Death of an Estranged Parent

by Kris Peterson.

There are many articles on parents with estranged adult children.  This article however will touch on adult children with estranged parents.

When people hear about the loss or the impending loss of an estranged parent some people feel shocked and unprepared to experience the range of emotions of grief.  They may struggle with a wide variety of things that they will have to be consider in a very short period of time.  Funeral attendance, flights across the country, other people’s feelings and their own feelings.  The loss may leave them mourning not only their estranged parents death but also the loss of an imaginary, what-may-have-been relationship.

Sometimes people find out about the death of their parent in an insensitive way.  Maybe they found out after the fact in obituaries or through the “grape-vine” of other estranged family members.  Communication in estranged family relationships are sometimes non-existent. It is not unusual for major events – even a death – to not be communicated. They may assume that they were left out with evil intent when it’s possible that the family of the estranged parent has perceived the relationship to be so strained that the person wouldn’t want it communicated.

Reasons people may grieve an estranged parent:

  1. Grieving that the relationship now has no chance of mending. Often at some level there is an unspoken hope that the relationship might be restored. Death closes the door on reconciliation. Words are left unsaid and the feelings still remain, sometimes without closure.
  2. Grieving the loss of a part of heritage. Even though the relationship with the parent wasn’t strong, the death involves someone who is a part of their lineage and the chance to learn about the other half of their family may be gone.
  3. Grieve what might have been.  People reflect on a time when they loved the parent, or wanted to love them. Although there may not be a longing for things to change, there is a feeling of melancholy that things were not different. The death of the parent brings to mind ideas of how the relationship should have been.  After the loss, the dream for a better relationship remains only a dream, and in many cases people grieve the death of the dream rather than the loss of the person.

Some people experience apathy to the loss of the non-existent parent in their lives.  It is entirely possible that they dealt with the grief of loss when they were first estranged.   The length of time and purpose of the estrangement greatly affects each persons response.

Ways to help someone with the loss of an estranged parent:

  • Regardless of whatever expectations they think society has placed on them for handling the loss of an estranged parent, they have experienced a loss and they are allowed to grieve.  Giving them space to grieve without judgment is important.
  • People may express deep sadness and remorse for the wasted years.  Missed phone calls or chances to re-connect and opportunities lost.  Remind them to not waste the rest of their life looking back at what could have been.
  • Talking about the past can be cathartic and open doorways to recovery.  Though sometimes people don’t realize that reciting a general litany of of unhappiness is one of the main reasons they stay stuck.  The goal is to become emotionally complete with what happened so that they don’t need to be a current victim of what happened in the past. It’s bad enough that they were mistreated and/or harmed, but remaining stuck in the destructive mental repetition can prevent them from moving forward.
  • Remind them that forgiveness isn’t saying that the estranged child ‘accepts’ or ‘approves’ what happened. Forgiveness is the acknowledgment that what happened, happened, and that they are now ready to let go of the baggage.  Forgiveness isn’t always about the other person, it’s about moving forward.

What NOT to say to someone grieving the death of an estranged parent:

  • “They were an awful person, why do you even care?” Invalidates the feelings of the grieving person.  They are trying to figure out their own emotions in the situation.  They may be feeling confused or upset that they care about this person too. They may be upset that they care for this person at all, adding even more to their confusion and grief.  Invalidating their feelings may make them feel like they aren’t allowed to express them at all.
  • When will you feel better?” Expectation for a timeline for grieving puts unnecessary pressure on the griever to just get over it and again reinforces that they aren’t allowed to express their emotions.
  • “You didn’t even know him/her” amplifies what the griever is probably already thinking.  Knowing this doesn’t take away from the pain of being unable to connect to their estranged parent, in cases it might even be the primary cause of their grief.

Resources:

I thought we‘d never speak again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation,By Laura Davis.  She weaves powerful accounts of parents reconciling with children, embittered siblings reconnecting, angry friends reunited, when war veterans and crime victims meet with their enemies, to her own experiences reconciling with her mother after a long, painful estrangement.

Healing Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace After Being Cut Off From a Family, By Mark Sichel.  Family therapist Mark Sichel addresses the pain and shame connected with family rifts and offers a way through the crisis and on toward healing and fulfillment.

Family Estrangements: How They Begin, How to Mend Them, How to Cope with Them, By Barbara LeBey.  Working closely with two family therapists, Barbara LeBey offers a set of tested guidelines to help you approach alienated or angry family members, deal with your own issues, and mend your broken family relationships–even if you think it may already be too late.

Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief, By Jennifer Elison and Chris Mcgonigle.  Sometimes we are relieved that our loved one is no longer suffering; at the other end of the spectrum, a death might finally free us of an abusive or unhappy relationship.  In this groundbreaking book, the authors share their own and others’ stories, compassionate clinical analysis, and pragmatic counsel with other disenfranchised survivors.

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, By Susan Forward.  In this remarkable self-help guide, Dr. Susan Forward draws on case histories and the real-life voices of adult children of toxic parents to help you free yourself from the frustrating patterns of your relationship with your parents — and discover a new world of self-confidence, inner strength, and emotional independence.

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, By Lindsay C. Gibson.  clinical psychologist Lindsay Gibson exposes the destructive nature of parents who are emotionally immature or unavailable. You will see how these parents create a sense of neglect, and discover ways to heal from the pain and confusion caused by your childhood.

The Bereavement Academy

Death of a Parent Effects Even Grown Children

By Joshua A Krisch

The death of a parent is among the most emotionally difficult and universal of human experiences. If a person doesn’t know what it’s like suffer the loss of a father or the loss of a mother, they most likely will one day. The passing of a parent is inevitable, but that certainty doesn’t make losing a parent any easier to accept or understand. The death of a parent is grief-filled and traumatic, and permanently alters children of any age, both biologically and psychologically. Nothing is ever the same again — it’s a wholly transformative thing.

There’s no amount of psychological data that can capture this distinctly painful and powerful grief, as it affects each of us individually. There are, however, a number of brain-imaging and psychological studies that demonstrate the magnitude of loss of the death of a parent represents. The posterior cingulate cortex, frontal cortex, and cerebellum are all brain regions mobilized during grief processing, research shows. These regions are involved in storing memories and dwelling on the past; they’re also involved in regulating sleep and appetite.

In the short term, neurology assures us that loss will trigger physical distress. In the long-term, grief puts the entire body at risk. A handful of studies have found links between unresolved grief and cardiac events, hypertension, immune disorders, and even cancer. It is unclear why grief would trigger such dire physical conditions, but one theory is that a perpetually activated sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) can cause long-term genetic changes. These changes — dampened immune responses, less pre-programmed cell death — may be ideal when a bear is chasing you through the forest and you need all the healthy cells you can get. But, unchecked, this sort of cellular dysregulation is also how cancerous cells metastasize. 

While the physical symptoms that manifest after the death of a parent are relatively consistent, the psychological impacts are all but unpredictable. In the year following the loss of a parent, the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) considers it healthy for adults to experience a range of contradictory emotions, including but not limited to anger, rage, sadness, numbness, anxiety, guilt, emptiness, regret, and remorse. It’s normal to throw oneself into work; it’s also normal to withdraw from activities and friends. 

“In the best-case scenario, the death of a parent is anticipated and there’s time for families to prepare, say their goodbyes, and surround themselves with support,” says psychiatrist Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi. “In cases where a death is unexpected, such as with an acute illness or traumatic accident, adult children may remain in the denial and anger phases of the loss for extended periods of time … [leading to] diagnosis of major depressive disorder or even PTSD, if trauma is involved.”

Context matters. Sudden, violent death puts survivors at a higher risk of developing a grief disorder, and when an adult child has a fractured relationship with a parent, the death can be doubly painful — even if the bereaved shuts down and pretends not to feel the loss.

“Coping is less stressful when adult children have time to anticipate parental death,” says Jumoke Omojola, a therapist and clinical social worker. “Not being able to say goodbye contributes to feeling depressed and angry.” This may explain why studies have shown that young adults are more affected by parental loss than middle-aged adults. Presumably, their parents died unexpectedly, or at least earlier than average.

The gender of both the parent and child can especially influence the contours of the grief response.

Studies suggest that daughters have more intense grief responses than sons. Men who lose their parents, meanwhile, may be slower to move on. “Males tend to show emotions less and compartmentalize more,” says Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author. “These factors do affect the ability to accept and process grief.”

Studies have also shown that loss of a father is more associated with the loss of personal mastery — vision, purpose, commitment, belief, and self-knowledge. Losing a mother, on the other hand, elicits a more raw response. “Many people report feeling a greater sense of loss when a mother dies,” Manly says. “This can be attributed to the often close, nurturing nature of the mother-child relationship.”

At the same time, the differences between losing a father and a mother represent relatively weak trends. “Complicated bereavement can exist no matter which parent is lost,” Benders-Hadi says. “More often, it is dependent on the relationship and bond that existed with the parent.”

Grief becomes pathological, according to the DSM, when the bereaved are so overcome that they are unable to carry on with their lives. Preliminary studies suggest this occurs in about 1 percent of the healthy population, and about 10 percent of the population that had previously been diagnosed with a stress disorder.

“A diagnosis of adjustment disorder is made within three months of the death if there is a ‘persistence of grief reactions’ exceeding what’s normal for the culture and the religion,” Omojola says. “In this situation, the grieving adult has severe challenges meeting social, occupational, and other expected, important life functions.” 

Even adults who are able to go to work and put on a brave face may be suffering a clinical condition if they remain preoccupied with the death, deny that their parent has died, or actively avoid reminders of their parents, indefinitely. This condition, known as persistent complex bereavement disorder, is a trickier diagnosis to pin down (the DSM labeled it a “condition for further study”).

In more concrete terms, unresolved grief can spiral into anxiety and depression. This is especially true when the parent dies by suicide, according to Lyn Morris, a licensed therapist and VP at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services. “Adults who lose a parent to suicide often struggle with complex emotions such as guilt, anger, and feelings of abandonment and vulnerability,” she told Fatherly. Indeed a 2010 study out of Johns Hopkins University confirmed that losing a parent to suicide makes children more likely to die by suicide themselves.

Elisabeth Goldberg, a relationship therapist in NYC who works with grieving adults, has seen the toll that long-term grieving can take on a marriage. Specifically, Goldberg suggests a (somewhat Freudian) link between losing a parent and cheating on a spouse. “I see many affairs as manifestations of unresolved grief about losing a parent,” she says. “The adult child stays in a state of disbelief, and rejects reality in many ways in order to feed the delusion that the parent is still alive. The grieving child needs a new attachment figure, that’s the psyche trying to reconcile the denial and grief. So rather than say, ‘My mother died,’ the grieving child can say, ‘While Mommy’s away, I will play with someone other than my spouse.’ ”

How to cope with the death of a parent in a healthy way remains an active area of scientific inquiry. Ross Grossman, a licensed therapist who specializes in adult grief, has identified several “main distorted thoughts” that infect our minds when we face adversity. Two of the most prominent are “I should be perfect” and “They should have treated me better” — and they tug in opposite directions. “These distorted thoughts,” Grossman says, “can easily arise in the wake of a loved one’s death.”

When a son or daughter reflects on how he or she should have treated a deceased parent, “I should be perfect” thoughts tend to rise to the surface. Grossman say his patients often feel that they should have done more and, “because they didn’t do any or all of these things, they are low-down, dirty, awful, terrible human beings,” he says. “These kinds of thoughts, if left undisputed, usually result in a feeling of low self-worth, low self-esteem, shame, self-judgment, self-condemnation.

On the opposite extreme, patients sometimes blame their deceased parents for not treating them properly, and never making amends. This is similarly unhealthy. “The usual result of this is deep resentment, anger, rage,” Grossman says. “They may have genuine, legitimate reasons to feel mistreated or abused. In these situations, it’s not always the death of the parent but the death of the possibility of reconciliation, of rapprochement and apology from the offending parent.”

“The possibility,” he says, “has died along with the person.”

In extreme cases, therapy may be the only way to get a grieving son or daughter back on their feet. Time, and an understanding spouse, can also go a long way toward helping adults get through this painful chapter in their lives.

“Husbands can best support their wives by listening,” Manly says. “Men often feel helpless in the face of their wives’ emotions, and they want to fix the situation. A husband can do far more good by sitting with his wife, listening to her, holding her hand, taking her for walks, and — if she desires — visiting the burial site.”

Fatherly.com

Coping with Bereavement and Grief

Image – Alan-Morris.me

I hope these articles will help you through difficult times:

The 5 stages of grief and loss are:

1. Denial and isolation;

2. Anger;

3. Bargaining;

4. Depression;

5. Acceptance.

People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
The stages of grief and mourning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death of a valued being, human, or animal. There are five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. The five stages of loss do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief.
The death of your loved one might inspire you to evaluate your own feelings of mortality. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life.

Many people do not experience the stages of grief in the order listed below, which is perfectly okay and normal. The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are.
Please keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. You should try not to judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.

Read more here

Psychology.Org

Image – Pinterest

Hope to Cope with the Loss of a Parent

Although it will happen to us all, the loss of a parent is always a major shock in our lives and a time of grief and sadness. Everyone copes in their own way, but some will find it more difficult than others. Some of the ideas on these pages may help you to cope if you have lost your father or mother.
It can help enormously to get involved in the funeral arrangements and make sure that your feelings are expressed. Whether that means that you write some words, or choose some music for the ceremony, it is good to be part of it.

Read more here:

Grief and Sympathy

Image- Can Stock Photo

Facing the death of the one you love

The death of a spouse or significant other is an earth-shattering event that brings incomprehensible grief. Your partner was, after all, the person with whom you shared your dreams and built your life – the person you loved more than life itself.
Not only is the relationship between spouses or partners defined by the most intimate emotional and physical bonds of any human relationship, but your partner may have filled many other roles in your life as well, such as best friend, co-parent, confidant, traveling companion, or bridge partner. And if the roles within your relationship were clearly defined, your loved one may have been the only one who ever cooked, cleaned, brought home a paycheck, took out the garbage, did the laundry, or paid the bills.

The passing of someone so central to your life is certain to leave a tremendous emotional, physical, and practical void. Your grief may be so profound that you feel like your hope for the future died with your spouse. But although nothing and no one can make your pain go away, you can find in others the support you need as you work through the stages of grief and learn to live with the changes in many areas of your life, including those that follow.

Read more here:

The Light Beyond

Image – Unsplash

Helping Yourself Heal When an Adult Sibling Dies
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

“To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters.
We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts.
We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys.
We live outside the touch of time.”
—Clara Ortega

Whether your sibling was younger or older, whether the death was sudden or anticipated, whether you were very close to your sibling throughout your lives or experienced periods of separation, you are now grieving.
To grieve is to experience thoughts and feelings of loss inside you. If you loved your sibling, you will grieve. To mourn is to express your grief outside of yourself. Over time and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal.

Read more here:

Grief Words 

Image – Gray Scale Photography

Dealing with the Death and Loss of a Child

The death and loss of a child is frequently called the ultimate tragedy. Nothing can be more devastating. Along with the usual symptoms and stages of grief, there are many issues that make parental bereavement particularly difficult to resolve. And this grief over the loss of a child can be exacerbated and complicated by feelings of injustice — the understandable feeling that this loss never should have happened. During the early days of grieving, most parents experience excruciating pain, alternating with numbness — a dichotomy that may persist for months or longer. Many parents who have lost their son or daughter report they feel that they can only “exist” and every motion or need beyond that seems nearly impossible. It has been said that coping with the death and loss of a child requires some of the hardest work one will ever have to do.

Image – The Inquisitr

Pregnancy loss and infant death

When a baby dies before it is born or soon after birth, parents face a difficult emotional task: they must try to say goodbye to someone they had little chance to know. They must accept that a life has ended, even though it barely began. Just as with any death and loss of a child, you are likely to experience some of the more common symptoms of grief — you may go into shock or even deny that your baby has died. Depression, anger, frustration and other painful emotions are normal and to be expected. And even if you are normally a committed, caring person, you may find that you don’t care about anything or anyone right now. As noted earlier, for many parents this time is simply one of existence and survival and very little more.

Read more here:

HealGrief.org