Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent
Grieving the loss of a living parent is one of the most difficult things one can face in life. Yes, grieving the death of a parent is incredibly hard as I’ve experienced that also. However, to have to grieve the loss of a living parent produces a pain that is often indescribable.
From my own personal experience and experience as a psychotherapist, grieving the loss of a living parent creates a large hole in your heart. It doesn’t matter if you chose to separate yourself from your parent or your parent chose to separate himself or herself from you, the pain is still deep.
If you chose to separate yourself from a parent because you needed to protect yourself physically, emotionally or both, that still creates an intense emotional struggle. Unfortunately, it also leaves us with hope that one day that parent will see how they’ve hurt you and change.
Unrealistic Hope in Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent
Sadly, that hope can be damaging. Again, with my own personal experience and my experience as a therapist, most people never truly do their work to heal.
So, the expectation of your parent acknowledging the pain they caused is often unrealistic. Therefore, that typically leaves no room for healing in the relationship.
Although that hope that the parent will change never goes away no matter how old the “child” is. That is the reason it is so difficult to have to grieve the loss of a living parent.
For the most part, parents are too scared to look at their own pain. That often results in causing pain to their child. If they were to acknowledge their own pain, then they would have to acknowledge the pain that they caused their child.
Guilt and shame would possibly drown them if they were to do that. That guilt and shame can consume anyone. Therefore, most parents find it easier to ignore it. Often, people do this subconsciously.
When that happens, it causes more pain for the child who is grieving the loss of a living parent. The parent tends to dismiss the pain felt by their child and the effects from that. Many times, the parent will subconsciously push their own pain as far down as possible.
Parents Dismissing Reality for those Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent
If that happens, the parent may even fabricate the kind of childhood they provided for their child. Please remember I said that was subconscious. If they really looked at the reality of the pain they caused, then they would have to look at their own reality of pain, along with the reality of the kind of childhood they provided their child.
That is too much for many people. I’ve seen parents tell their adult children that events never happened. They also can say the child made up stories, even when there are others who can support the truth of events. Again, acknowledgment of reality might be way more than the parent can handle.
Are you wondering why a parent would do this? Aren’t parents supposed to love their children and want to help when they are in pain? Why would parents dismiss their children or attack their children due to the pain they actually created?
There can be so many different answers to these questions. Commonly, the answers relate to the parents being emotionally unavailable and having emotionally unavailable parents themselves. This results in children and adult children grieving the loss of a living parent.
The parents simply repeated what their parents did because they knew no other way. To read more about Emotionally Unavailable Parents and How to Heal from that, click here.
As I said, there are numerous answers to those questions, but I’m going to focus on one. It’s typically the one I see most often for people grieving the loss of a living parent. Most people never received unconditional love. Therefore, they don’t know how to give it as a parent.
Why are So Many Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent?
What is the one thing every child needs, even adult children? Unconditional love and acceptance from their parents. Although, there might be some arguments from those who are grieving the loss of a living parent.
Some might say that they are “fine” without their parents in their lives. They might even say they don’t need or want love from those parents. That’s a defense mechanism. Every single person I have seen struggle with grieving the loss of a living parent really wants the parent to love and accept them unconditionally.
It’s just easier for us to say or convince ourselves that we don’t need that unconditional love or acceptance from our parents. For those of you who are grieving the loss of a living parent, think about the conditions there are or have been for your parent to accept or love you.
Would you be loved and accepted if you’d married the partner your parent wanted you to marry? If you had chosen the career or life path your parent wanted? If you became the person they wanted you to be? If you dismissed the pain they caused?
Why Are Parents Not Capable of Acknowledging Reality?
The biggest reason I have seen is that you would be accepted and loved unconditionally if you joined them in pretending that your childhood was not painful and that they did not cause you pain. The more you acknowledge the pain they caused the further they often get from accepting and loving you unconditionally.
Again, for parents to acknowledge that they would have to acknowledge their own pain. That is hard and the reason so many people are grieving the loss of a living parent.
I truly have compassion and sadness for those who are never able to acknowledge their own pain. Everybody deserves to heal, no matter the pain they caused.
The tough part of this for me is to see the child, whether an adult now or not, believe that their parent’s inability to accept and unconditionally love them is somehow their own fault.
The Pain of Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent
Those grieving the loss of a living parent carry a lot of Not Good Enough Stuff that was never theirs to begin with. To read more about what Not Good Enough Stuff is and how to heal it, click here.
Not Good Enough Stuff gets piled too high for that child or adult. They decide that there is something wrong with them causing them to be rejected by their parents. As I’ve done my own healing work on this, I had to realize that the inability of a parent to accept or love their child unconditionally says nothing about the child or adult child!
Instead, what it says is that the parent’s pain is far too deep and scary for them to explore or attempt to heal. Due to the magnitude of that pain, parents will go to great links to cover it up.
As I mentioned, this often means the parent will dismiss true events his or her child experienced. That only furthers the pain for those grieving the loss of a living parent.
What Does It Look Like for Those Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent?
Here’s an example of this. Lauren, an adult child, was trying to explain to her mother the effects she had from witnessing physical abuse between her parents. She tried many times to tell her mother how she grew up living in constant fear that it would happen again, and it did.
On top of that, she had to pretend to the outside world that her family was picture perfect. The message given to her was both implicit and explicit. The message was, “You are not to tell anybody about what happened.”
Many children experience those same messages. Often, they are accompanied by threats if the child doesn’t obey the order to keep quiet. For Lauren, the result was isolating herself from the world, which led to deep depression that continued through to her adult life.
Lauren exhausted herself trying to explain the pain she endured to her parent. Unfortunately, that parent was unable to acknowledge that Lauren’s pain was well-founded. The parent even said, “Well the violence only happened a few times. You had a good childhood.”
I think that anybody who heard that would be able to say that for a child to witness violence between his or her parents even once is one time too many. So, imagine how much Lauren’s pain increased due to her mother’s dismissive response.
Parents Gaslighting Their Children Who Are Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent
Remember how I said that parents would go to extremes to avoid looking at their own pain because it would result in guilt and shame? Lauren’s mother would have to acknowledge that she did nothing to protect her daughter physically and emotionally. To read more about what Parents Gaslighting their children, click here.
For many parents, that is a pain they will never acknowledge because, as I said earlier, it could drown them. Instead, Lauren’s mother has to dismiss the severity of the pain that she caused.
Parents will often resort to anger towards their child. They will also deem their children crazy or unstable when the truth is that adult children like Lauren are often the first in the family to begin healing. That is a foreign concept and, if something is foreign to others, it’s typically judged as wrong or crazy.
Many times, the parent will even go to extremes to attempt to get others to believe that adult children like Lauren are crazy or unstable in order to protect themselves and the reputation they’ve worked hard to create.
Healing while Grieving the Loss of a Living Parent
The scenario of Lauren results in her grieving the loss of a living parent. In order to truly heal, she might have to separate herself from her parent. Often, that is the only way adult children like Lauren can heal when grieving the loss of a living parent.
The outcome might also be that Lauren’s mother separates herself from Lauren because it appears easier to disconnect instead of acknowledging the reality of Lauren’s childhood and ways that she contributed to her pain.
Either way, the pain is still very deep for anybody who is grieving the loss of a living parent. My recommendation is for any child, whether adult or not, find a licensed therapist. Navigating this kind of pain and trauma alone is a tough road and one I don’t recommend.
If you are grieving the loss of a living parent, comment below. Let me know how that has affected you. What have you done to heal?
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This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.
Thank you for this article. I hadn’t really considered what I was going through as grieving my father while alive. I had to relocate 150 miles away as he was systematically destroying me, emotionally and financially. We had barely spoken in the two years before his death.
I always thought / hoped he would apologise. I now find myself navigating a complicated grieving process as I loved him in spite of everything
You are so welcome. I am so sorry for the pain you endured and the changes you had to make as a result. I know the pain of that all too well and sending you love as you move through your grieving process.
I have recently had my grieving of my living father reopened as my stepsister contacted me in complete overwhelm from trying to deal with him and her mother, who is in very poor health. While I tried reaching out to my father via phone, as I told my stepsister I would, I was rebuffed with the whole routine of “everything’s fine, we’re all fine, etc.” Yes, I have heard this before. I rarely hear from my father anymore, and it was sporadic ahead of the rarely state. I have phoned, left messages, sent cards, etc., but he seems to want to have nothing to do with me. Your article, I think, gives me some additional insight into why — I am trying to heal, to do the work of healing, and I am willing to admit things are not “fine” and try to deal with them. That makes him terribly uncomfortable because he sees my attitude as a threat and a criticism of him. I am working with a therapist on not only this issue but several others, so I am not trying to go it alone. Thank you for helping me to see deeper into this particular set of issues I am grappling with and encouraging me along my healing path. It’s helpful to hear these difficult things explained and explored in a down to earth way.
Charity, I am so sorry to hear such struggle in your relationship with your father. That is one of the toughest emotional pains that exists, in my opinion. It hits all the way to the core of your soul. I am so glad that you have a therapist who is helping you through all of this. The fact that you are willing to stand firm in your truth and continue your healing journey is beautiful and amazing. Also, thank you for such vulnerability in your comment and your kind words. It warms my heart to know that my writing helps you. Wishing you peace and love in your continued healing journey.