When Parents Die


When does the grieving end?
Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship.
Robert Anderson

My father died in 1994. My mother died in 2006. I grieved my father's death, but it was easier because I still had Mom to comfort me. Her death leaves me with the deepest heartache I have ever known.

There is no right and wrong way to grieve because the journey is personal. We each must find our own way through the darkness. Poetry and prose console me. May the words below help you, too.

Whether positive, negative, or a combination of light and dark, the emotions that bind us to our parents are strong. When our parents die, our complex emotions live on. Some of us mourn the loss of enduring love. Some of us grieve for lost potential: what could have been, and never will be.

I once read that we do not fully grow up until both our parents die. By this definition, I have officially reached adulthood and I don't like it. A friend sent me a beautiful poem of change when Dad died, and the death of a parent changes us in unexpected ways. I share it here:

My Father's Death
By May Sarton

After the laboring birth, the clean stripped hull
Glides down the ways and is gently set free,
The landlocked, launched; the cramped made bountiful--
Oh, grave, great moment when ships take the sea!
Alone now in my life, no longer child,
This hour and its flood of mystery,
Where death and love are wholly reconciled,
Launches the ship of all my history.
Accomplished now is the last struggling birth,
I have slipped out from the embracing shore
Nor look for comfort to maternal earth.
I shall not be a daughter any more,
But through this final parting, all stripped down,
Launched on the tide of love, go out full grown.

Grief holds the promise of healing through the darkness, but sometimes, the pain of loss is so intense, it is hard to see the light. The passage below is from the book How to Survive the Loss of a Parent by Lois F. Akner, CSW, with Catherine Whitney. (William Morrow and Company, NY, 1993, p. 193)

Death takes away. That's all there is to it. But grief gives back. By experiencing it, we are not simply eroded by pain. Rather, we become...more compassionate, more aware, more able to help others, more able to help ourselves. 

Click The Trap of Comparisons for more thoughts on adult grief.


Go to next page: They Live On


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How complicated and individual mending is, the time required for healing
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. Mary Jane Moffat
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