Holiday Grief of a Parent

Recently two of my friends dads unexpectedly passed away and this will be their first Christmas without them.  One woman is in her late thirties and the other is in her mid-twenties.  Both have 22001-bg2-revisedentered into an exclusive club that nobody wants to be a part of ever in their lives.  Losing a parent is excruciating.  I know because my mom passed away 16 years ago when I was in my early twenties and this will be the 16th Christmas without her.  There are so many reasons why losing a parent absolutely sucks.  One of the big hitters is the uncontrollable grief, anger and sadness that comes when you least expect it.  For me it’s when I’m out shopping and see a mother and daughter shopping together.  I usually hide in the dressing room fighting back tears or dash out to my car with tears streaming down my face.  You’re left feeling like something is wrong with you because for Pete’s sake it’s just a mother and daughter shopping together!  But it’s a trigger deep in the brain that reminds you of all the times you had together but most importantly what you are missing out.  

Now that I’m in my late thirties I know more and more people who have been thrust into this most unfortunate club but 16 years ago I knew no one who I could talk to about how I was feeling.  None of my friends could relate to watching their beloved mother get sick and waste away 4 long years before passing on.  There was no social media to reach out to find others.  It was a very lonely time.  

We are not equipped to deal with grief.  It’s not taught in schools and it was not talked about in my family; the person who would have taught me about grief had died.  I was left on my own to figure it out.  Now you can buy books or find podcasts to guide you through the different stages but it still isn’t something you know how to go through.  

So I am offering my experience so that maybe it will help someone not only get through the holidays but get through each day.

  1. It’s okay to cry, to get mad, to want to scream or even punch someone in the face.  (Although I recommend not actually following through with that last one)
  2. There’s no time limit on grief.  I can’t tell you how long it’s going to last except that how you are feeling right now will change into something else and then into something else and so forth.  Feelings are constantly changing.  There’s hope in that.
  3. I know that it feels like everyone else has moved on and you are left here feeling sad and angry because you feel like everyone else has moved on.  Everyone deals with grief differently and just because it appears that they have moved on isn’t necessarily true.  Looks can be deceiving.  We never really know what others are experiencing behind closed doors and creating a story doesn’t serve us at all.
  4. Take time for yourself.  If you’re not ready to partake in the holiday festivities, don’t.  Let go of what you think you should do and do what feels best for you in the moment.  There will be plenty of other opportunities to celebrate the holidays again.
  5. You’ll hear the first year is the hardest because you’re experiencing the first of everything for the first time.  But then you’re left feeling confused when you are still grieving after the first year but let me remind you that there’s no timeline with grief.  
  6. It F-ing SUCKS to have a parent die.  It F-ing SUCKS more when people try to give you bullshit comfort lines such as “She’s in a better place.”  “She’s with the angels now.”  Or my all time favorite “God needed her in heaven more than on earth”.  So God really needed her in heaven more than I needed her guidance, love, friendship, parenting?  (yes someone actually said this to me)
    1. If you are reading this and you have a loved one who has had a parent die DO NOT say any of the above or anything close to it.  All you need to say is “I am so sorry for your loss”  Period.  End of story.  Please keep your comfort thoughts for yourself.
    2. You can also say, “It really F-ing SUCKS your mom/dad died”.
    3. Receiver of said statements, respond with “Thank you” or “It really does F-ing suck.”  Please do not say “It’s okay”.  There is nothing okay about a parent dying so please respect your feelings and experience to respond with a proper acknowledgement.
  7. Invest in some ice trays and fill them up full with water so that when you get angry (and oh how you will) you can take those ice trays out of the freezer and throw them as hard as you can into the bathtub!!  It’s a constructive act that will release some of the anger in the body.  Plus the clean up is easy.
  8. Find a support group of people who have experienced the death of a parent.  Friends and family are great but no one can support you as well as others who have also felt the full arrangement of feelings you have or will feel from losing a parent.  I have a good friend whose mother also passed away and all we have to do is call each other to say, “I really miss my mom”.  Because of our shared reality we understand the rainbow of feelings that come with that one statement.  
  9. You’re going to be vulnerable.  If you have ever had any addiction issues: food, sex, relationships, drugs, alcohol, spending money, gambling, you name it, it’s going to be lurking in the dark.  Even if you have not you may start reaching outside of yourself to feel better.  Because of your vulnerability, you’ll be more susceptible to these outlets for escape so stay vigilant in your self care.  Invest in a therapist, find a support group, commit to an exercise program (although in moderation as that can be an addiction too), try yoga and meditation, get massages, take bubble baths, spend time with friends, connect with God, or dive deep into spirituality.
  10. Take it a day at a time.  Take care of yourself moment by moment and give yourself permission to feel your feelings.  Know that all of your feelings are valid and that it is okay to feel them all.  They won’t kill you even though sometimes the pain feels like it might.  

I’ve learned to live without my mom; I’ve had too and I miss her terribly.  But in order for me to go on living I’ve had to relearn how to live without her.  My life will never be the same since she passed away and I’ve changed in ways that only came from the trauma of losing a mother early in life.  If you are reading this and you have lost a parent, you are not alone.  Everything you feel is okay and yes, it F-ing sucks.
Keegan White E-RYT500