A couple holds hands while sitting together.

Coping With Grief After Losing a Parent

Losing a parent is an incredibly difficult event for just about anyone.

It’s a massive loss that’s all too often hard to comprehend, understand, and accept. That’s true no matter the specifics of the relationship you had with your parent. 

Whether you were extremely close with them or more distant, the death of a parent often leads to complex emotions. Uncertainty and profound sadness are just a few examples. Everyone has a uniquely personal experience when they lose a parent. The common thread is a deep sense of grief and loss.

Grieving the loss of a parent is especially difficult. However, it’s also an entirely normal, and ultimately universal process. Grieving helps people understand and accept the fundamental change in life and personal identity that comes with losing a parent.

Understanding what may happen during the grieving process can help make this very difficult time a little easier. 

Feeling overwhelmed, distraught, or stuck in your grieving process? Finding support from a counsellor who specializes in grief and loss can help strengthen your support system. A qualified counsellor empowers you to understand and accept your emotions throughout the healing process.

Understanding Grief After Losing a Parent

Grief Feels Different for Everyone

The stages of grief are a well-known concept but they’re not the best representation of the experience of grieving. Why? Because grief feels different for everyone. 

It’s not “right” to move through the stages of grief in a specific, linear order. Similarly, it’s not “wrong” to move back and forth between these stages, or to experience them in a different order.

That said, the stages of grief do represent feelings that many people experience over a lost parent and these emotions are common to the grieving process. They may not feel comfortable, productive, or even welcome, and that is okay. 

If you’re grieving the loss of your father or mother, or any other parental figure, you may feel:

  • Shock – The loss of a parent can profoundly disrupt your normal emotions and sense of self.
  • Denial – It can be incredibly difficult to accept that someone with such a strong connection to you is no longer with you.
  • Anger – Feelings of frustration, a sense of unfairness, and the desire to find someone to blame for the death are common.
  • Bargaining – With the benefit of hindsight, you might feel a different choice could have saved your parent.
  • Depression – You may feel that your situation is hopeless or too overwhelming.
  • Acceptance – Often felt as people acknowledge difficult but universal facts, like mortality and the progression of time.
A woman looks pensively out of a rain-streaked window.

There’s No Standard Timeline When it Comes to Grieving the Loss of a Parent

Grieving is a process, which means it takes some time to work through and the specific amount of time involved will be different for everyone. 

When you lose your mother or father, friends and family members may grieve similarly or in very different ways.

Remember that your feelings are valid and important. Don’t feel constrained by the amount of bereavement leave your employer offers and don’t feel like you have to keep up with friends and family as they move through this process.

Instead, give yourself time. Experiencing the many emotions that come along with grief is an important step in healing and moving forward.

Remember That Some Grief Over Losing a Parent May Always be Present

Grieving related to the passing of a parent, or anyone close to you, may never completely end. 

As you experience important moments in your own life, grief may re-emerge. You may feel grief that your parent isn’t there to experience your marriage or the birth of your child. Occasions like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can become bittersweet as well. 

That’s a normal and healthy reaction — it’s not something to worry about. In a sense, it helps to keep important memories alive.

Value Yourself: Find Support When Grieving

Grieving is a normal and healthy process and you don’t have to go through it alone. 

If feeling lost or sad is becoming overwhelming, consider joining a support group, speaking with friends or family or seeking professional help from a certified counsellor. 

A grief and loss counsellor can provide positive support from an educated and engaged perspective. They can help you move through this intensely emotional experience and promote healing.

Wellin5 connects Canadians with online counselling for grief and loss, as well as a variety of other concerns. Feeling like you need support? A Wellin5 counsellor is available.