I get the occasional DM or email asking a very big question: How do you cope with the loss of a parent?
I lost my mom in 2019, but I’m not qualified to answer that question.
The thing about the loss of a parent is that each person experiences it differently – and their experience is different from each of their loved ones who are navigating their own loss. For me, I needed “normal.” The days of planning a funeral and going to said funeral were some of the most mentally and emotionally exhausted I have ever been. I needed routine and so I returned to the office and coaching a week after my mom’s death. That’s not the best move for some people, but for me, it was what I needed – to have something normal in my life again after more than a week of suspended reality.
When you lose a parent, people come out of the woodwork with condolences. They still come in more than two years later and I personally find those the most awkward. There is still the occasional “how’s your mom?” from someone that doesn’t know she’s passed and that’s perhaps the worst moment, to have to tell someone she’s gone. I talked about her death with one of my professors the other day as it was a catalyst for me to apply to film school and he did the usual “I am so sorry.” I told him he didn’t need to say that, it had been a couple of years after all, and we ended up having a great conversation on life, death, and grief and how none of us know how to handle it.
A lot of those aforementioned condolences will be empty.
It’s not that the person saying them doesn’t mean it. They almost always do. It’s that they are standard:
- “I’m sorry for your loss.”
- “Your family is in my prayers.”
- “Let me know if I can do anything for you.”
- “Your (insert loved one here) was a wonderful person.”
- “They are at peace now.”
- “They are no longer in pain.
- “My condolences.”
Greeting card lines. Things we say because we don’t know what else to say.
Then there are the well-meaning family and friends. The ones that think they’re helping by doing this task for you or making that call on your behalf. They mean well too. Their hearts are in the right place. You may not want their help or you may find their help intrusive at times, but give them grace. They are grieving too. It’s hard to remember that in the moment, but try. It will help you, too.
For me, the things that helped the most came from three of my friends – two who had lost parents and one who just knew me really well.
Liz had lost her dad a few years earlier. She was one of a handful of my friends I texted asking for her to pray for my mom when I learned when she was in cardiac arrest, and then one of the first people I told of her passing. I can’t remember if she called or texted me that night, but she gave me two pieces of advice:
- Find a piece of your mom’s clothing that’s blue and save it. You will be able to cut pieces out of it for your wedding day – and your siblings, too.
- Get a shawl or scarf of hers and save it – you’ll be able to wrap your babies in it one day.
I did both of those things. I have a couple pieces of blue clothing tucked away for when me and my siblings get married and I have one of her prayer shawls as well.
Amanda lost her dad when we were in college. She was another person I told early on. She had met my mom several times and loved her sarcastic commentary. Amanda was real with me. “Welcome to the club no one wants to be in. It sucks here.” She didn’t pull out any of those above condolences. She was just honest with me and I don’t know that she will ever know how much I appreciated that. How much I needed it.
And then Hanna just got me. She didn’t try to offer a bunch of fake condolences either, but she did show up at my dad’s house – which she didn’t realize was quite literally so far off the beaten path that the GPS doesn’t have roads – with a big bag of all my favorite things, including a bottle of whiskey and all the gummy candy.
Grieving the loss of a parent has no right answer. I know when I get those DMS or emails, there is someone on the other side waiting for a “how to” guide, but there is none. Grief and mourning is individual and unique. I had a lot of questions for God about my mom’s death, and while I still don’t fully understand it, I did get some answers in the form of a poem about weaving.
I’ve also talked a lot about her death in therapy. My mom and I had a complex relationship and I had – and still have, always will have – complicated feelings about both her and her passing. Therapy has helped me understand and navigate those feelings. It has also helped me understand her. I encourage anyone searching for how to cope with the loss of a parent or loved one to consider therapy. It changed my life.
And so, there you have it. My answer to how to cope with the loss of a parent.
There is no answer.
You do the best you can. You give yourself grace and permission to grieve however *you* need to grieve.
It is the club no one wants to be in. It really does suck here.
If you came here searching for those answers, know that I see you. I only have an idea as to what you’re going through – my experience with losing a parent is different than yours – but I see you all the same. Do what *you* need to do. Lean on the people that you want to lean on, not the people you think you should lean on. Don’t be ashamed to reach out to a therapist.
I can’t say it’s going to be okay. It will never be okay. But it will get easier in time. That’s one greeting line I found to be true.
And know too that even if I’m just a stranger on the internet, my inbox is open if you need or want someone to listen.