Have you recently lost one or both of your parents?
Need help recovering from your loss?
Can writing help you heal from grief?
Death and dying can be a difficult subject to broach. But the loss of your parents—the most important people in your formative years—can hit you very hard. If you’ve recently lost one or both of your parents, you’re probably experiencing a lot of grief. You’re going through a very normal grieving process, and healing will take some time. Writing about the death of your parents can help you heal from your grief.
Feeling Empty after a Parent’s Death
As young children, our parents are the first people we come to know in our lifetime. You depend on them for all of your basic human needs: food, shelter, and clothing. Your first ideas about the world are formed as a result of your interactions with and observations of your parents. While we know that all living things must someday die, the death of our parents, our first caregivers, can be quite traumatic.
For some, the death of a parent leaves them forever changed. Even well into adulthood, we still rely on our parents for emotional support, advice, and company. After all, one never stops being a parent, no matter how old your children become.
You may find yourself feeling guilty, depressed, not motivated to do normal activities, including eating and sleeping properly – it can be a difficult time. While this is normal after experiencing the death of someone you loved, this stage shouldn’t last forever. If you find yourself in this stage for a prolonged amount of time, you may want to seek the help of a counselor who can listen and help you work through your grief productively. And if you are feeling suicidal in any way, definitely seek help from a counselor or a suicide prevention line.
How the Loss of a Parent May Affect You
The loss of a parent may be one of the biggest blows as an adult child. At this point in your life, you have become friends with your parents. They may have relied on you just as you relied on them during your growing-up years. And although the tables may have turned, you still needed them too.
Not having the presence of your deceased parent in your life can leave a great hole. The time you used to spend together and the conversations you had can no longer happen. As a guardian, you may have devoted a lot of your time and energy to the care of one or both of your parents due to an injury or illness. Once your parent passed away, there was nothing more to do… no medicine to dispense, no doctor visits, no food to cook for them, no caretaker responsibilities. You can go from being busy every moment—even through the night—to everything coming to a screeching halt.
In addition, the loss of a parent brings you that much closer to facing your own mortality. There is no longer a generation in your family to precede you in death. You are now that generation.
How Long Can the Grieving Process Last after the Death of a Parent?
Although the stages of grief are similar for everyone, the amount of time it takes to go through these stages is different for every person. You may take longer to go through some stages than others. You may experience stages in a different order. For example, you may be angry at first or your anger may show up months or years later. In addition, you may skip some stages of grief altogether or work through them quickly.
So, there are no rules concerning how you handle your grief. It’s truly part of your own life journey. Of course, there are certainly healthy and unhealthy ways of handling grief. If you are turning to drugs, alcohol, self-harming or other injurious behaviors, then you will need additional help to work through your grief in a productive way.
You may take a few weeks or a few months to feel better after a parent’s death. Or it may be years before you start to feel like yourself again. Your grieving process will be normal for you.
It’s important to not compare yourself to your siblings or anyone else who is grieving for the same person or for a similar loss in their own lives. Work through your grief in your own way. And if you need help, do ask for it. We are all only human beings, and it’s OK to ask for help once in a while. No one would fault you for it or think any differently of you.
Help for Getting Over the Death of Your Parents
There is no perfect way to handle the death of your parents or anyone else close to you. There is only death, and what and who we become after experiencing that death. When we rely on our parents for certain things that they are no longer present to provide for us, we are left with doing those things for ourselves.
Here are some positive, productive ways to deal with the death of your parent or parents.
- First, it’s important to give yourself a break. Be good to yourself. Allow yourself time to cry and time to not cry. Grieving for a parent can take a lot out of you. You may feel emotionally and spiritually empty. You may feel physically exhausted due to a lack of sleep and lack of energy. Try to do one kind thing for yourself each day. It might be just sitting outside and watching the sun rise, or it can be making yourself one good meal a day. If you can manage one small thing in your day, it will eventually lead to a second good thing and a third good thing.
- Don’t expect life to feel normal for a while. It may take days, weeks or months before you get back to your normal routine. You may not be ready to go back to work, attend your exercise class or go to your regular luncheon with friends. That’s OK. Nobody expects that of you. Someday you’ll be ready, but today doesn’t have to be that day. However, you may get to a point that you’ll have to force yourself to do something normal just to give yourself the nudge you need. Remember, your parent probably wouldn’t want you to stop living your life and enjoying the things that they are no longer here to enjoy.
- Know that grief comes and goes. You may feel it right away or it may come later. You may be past the worst of it, but there will still be days that your grief hits you like a transfer truck. You’re allowed these days and these moments whenever they occur. It’s one way that you know that you’re still living.
- Don’t let anyone diminish your loss. Put any thoughts out of your mind that you are supposed to get over the death of your parents within a certain time frame. Yes, other people will not want to see you suffer. But your grief is your own and no one else’s. You are allowed to move through your grief at your own pace.
- Allow your parents to remain a part of your life. Just because your parent or parents are no longer with you, doesn’t mean that they stop being a part of your life. You can wear an item to help remember them throughout each day or gather some of their special belongings in a part of your home. You can also still talk to your parents out loud or in your head. Imagine what they would have said to you in certain situations. Their voice can still be a great part of your life. You will always be their child, their son or daughter.
- Take comfort in spirituality. Are your parents really gone? Many people will look to their faith to answer these questions. If you are a spiritual person, now may be the time, more than others, that you rely on your faith to find comfort. From a spiritual perspective, eternal life means that your parent’s death was actually the birth of their soul in the spiritual world.
- If you need help, get it. Your mental health is important. Seek support from family members, friends, a school counselor, a mental health professional or your religious leader. A professional can help you work through your grief so that you are not withdrawing from your own life. Again, there is no shame in seeking help. There is only regret for not getting help sooner.
- Live your life while you are still here to live it! We only get one life. Try taking up a new hobby or interest. Join a bereavement group. Travel somewhere you’ve never been before. Make some new friends. If there is a void in your life to fill, take that time to do something positive. And while it’s normal to grieve for the passing of your parents, there are other people who still need you: your siblings, spouse, children, friends, co-workers, etc.
How Does Writing Help You Get Over Your Parent's Death?
When coping with the aftermath of loss, you might feel numb or your body might be raging with many emotions. Sometimes feelings get bottled up, and sometimes we’re not aware of what we’re feeling at all.
Writing can be a cathartic way of getting your feelings out on paper. While talking to someone can help and screaming out loud in the privacy of your home can also be therapeutic, writing offers a different avenue of expression. By freely writing whatever comes to mind without any thought to organization, you are allowed to dig deep and identify the thoughts that may be living just under the surface. You may even discover some new things about your deceased parent, yourself, and feelings that you didn’t know you had.
First, it’s important to know that you don’t have to be any kind of writer. By putting your thoughts and feelings on paper, you are allowing them to be released and to freely exist. Know that whatever you write is for your eyes only. No one ever has to see what you write, unless you choose to share it. In fact, you are welcome to destroy what you write whenever you like. You can throw it in the trash, shred it, or even burn it safely… make a ceremony of it if you want.
The act of writing, alone, is wise therapy when it comes to emotional and spiritual healing. It’s not necessary to keep negative emotions hanging around. When you write your emotions on paper, they can become separate from you. You can look at your words on paper and see your struggle exist outside of yourself. Through your writing, you may also find a way to help your parents leave a legacy behind and you give yourself the space to move on and continue with your life.
How to Write About Your Grief
Just like grieving, there are no rules about writing about your grief. It’s probably better that way. Simply grab your pen or pencil and paper and begin putting your emotions into words. If you feel more comfortable sitting at a keyboard, then use your computer instead. Write, or type, whatever comes to mind. You might want to write some memories. Or you may want to revisit that moment when you first realized that your parent had died.
Release whatever is inside of you that needs to come out. Think of it as something similar to taking a bath. You have to soak in the warm, soapy water to let everything wash off of you. The same goes for releasing your emotions on paper.
Try not to focus on any one thing. Just work on writing whatever comes to mind. If you feel overwhelmed, put your pen down and come back to it later. You don’t have to get everything out in one sitting. Again, just like grief, it may take days, weeks or months.
Here are a few writing tips that you may find helpful when getting over the death of your father or mother.
- Develop a routine. Are you in a better frame of mind first thing in the morning or later in the day? You may want to set aside the same time each day to write. If you don’t feel up to it one day, then skip it. It’s OK. You can always return to your writing another day. You can start writing immediately after the death, after the funeral or wait until a later time.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to be formal in your writing. Simply write as you speak. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or punctuation. Remember, your writing is only for you.
- Keep it private. Stash your writing away where no one can see it. If you know that there’s no chance someone will read what you write, then you are more likely to be genuine and honest about yourself. When you can fully express your feelings without holding back, you are more likely to heal.
- Allow room for discovery. Don’t try to control your own writing process. Let the writing control you. Let your emotions take center stage for this period of time. No one is judging you. You may be writing about some difficult things, but acknowledging your pain is the best gift you can give yourself. When you write honestly, you leave the door open to self-discovery and growth.
- What and how you write is not important. Your writing can take whatever form it wants. Do you want your writing to be free flowing? Or is poetry a better avenue of expression for you? You may be surprised at what you discover about yourself in the process.
- If you find something worth saving, then save it. Through your grief writing, you may find a gem that is worth recalling when you write an obituary, prepare a eulogy, a life review or a life story. You may also want to review what you have previously written from time to time to see how far you’ve come.