Q: How is it possible to replace the unconditional love of my parent?
A: It is not replaceable. There are no other relationships that provide us that kind of unconditional love, or the boundless love of a parent. However, after a parent has died, there are ways that we can build our self esteem and confidence, learn to love ourselves and have self compassion.
We can encourage loving ourselves by trying a few of the following practices:
- Be patient with yourself. Do not judge yourself or others. Treat yourself as you would want others to treat you.
- Do things that give you pleasure and confidence such as joining interest groups, making new friends, and socializing. Isolating oneself is debilitating.
- Do things that give you a sense of “mastery” such as learning new skills. Take classes on subjects that interest you.
- Take small risks: meet new friends, try new adventures, go to a movie by yourself.
- Volunteer to help others.
- Rescue a pet. Pets are great source of unconditional love.
- Seek support in a group or private therapy.
Q: I feel so guilty about not being with my parent when he/she died. How do I handle this?
A: Most people who have lost a loved one feel some degree of guilt. We all say or do things that we regret. We’re human and not perfect. Guilt is usually not satisfied by explanations and it becomes most important that you accept your guilt, understand it and work with the pain. Many bereaved people feel guilty and with time the feelings of guilt lessen.
The following suggestions may help:
- It is important to be truthful about what causes you to feel guilt.
- Remember — just because you feel guilty does not mean you are guilty.
- Realize that sometimes you are powerless to control things that happen. “Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People,” a book written by Rabbi Harold Kushner, is an excellent book for helping to understand this in a spiritual context.
- Forgive yourself, and ask for “forgiveness” from your parent.
- Use the “empty chair” technique. Sit in front of an empty chair and imagine your parent is sitting in front of you. This allows you to focus on your guilt, to admit your guilt, and to understand and deal with your guilt even though your parent is not there.
- Try journaling your thoughts and feelings about your guilt.
- Volunteer to help others and in turn you will help yourself.
- If your guilt is hindering your healing seek professional help so that you can talk about your feelings and not be judged.
Q: How am I going to serve my remaining parent’s needs and balance those needs with my immediate family’s needs and my personal needs?
A: This is the time when dialogue with family becomes necessary and most helpful. The conversation you have with family members will be about the changing roles in the lives of family members.
A parent’s death often occurs at the most demanding time of an adult child’s life and there are additional demands placed on all family members that need to be discussed and delegated.
One of the major role changes is that you now find yourself the parent and often your parent has become the child, requiring emotional and physical care.
You will find it virtually impossible to try to be all things to all people. You will need to ask for help and to share responsibilities with other family members.
This may be a time to ask for professional help for yourself and/or your surviving parent. This help could be in the form of assistance with caregiving, support groups, or individual therapy.
Q: How do we grieve a parent who has not been loving?
A: Not every parent/child relationship is a loving relationship. Some parents represent the absence of love for a child. Adults who have lost an unloving or abusive parent often have a great deal of trouble recovering from the loss.
The death of the unloving parent is seen as the end of any possibility of being loved by that parent or, in fact, by anyone else; after all, if your parents don’t love you, who will?
Unresolved issues with parents complicate grief and recovery from loss. None of us has much of a tolerance for unorganized or ambivalent thoughts, so we hide them, and hope that, one day, those feelings will go away.
Below are some suggestions that might be helpful in resolving the death of an unloving parent:
- Identify your feelings.
- Take inventory of your entire relationship with your parent.
- Give yourself permission to have mixed feelings. It is truly okay to feel love and anger at the same time and to grieve that which you never experienced.
- Ask yourself — What do you miss about your parent?
- Ask yourself — What it is that you don’t miss?
- Encourage yourself to speak to others who will not judge your feelings.
- Remember there are no perfect relationships.
- Seek the help of a professional therapist or support group. Conflicted relationships can leave much pain. It can be excruciatingly painful to grieve the death of an unloving parent or abusive parent.