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Archive for Monday, April 4, 2011

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Mind Matters: Tips to cope with the loss of a parent

April 4, 2011

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We all have to face losing a parent at some point in our lives, and no matter what the timing or circumstance, it is a very difficult time. Even though you may know the stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance, that knowledge doesn’t make this time any easier. Grieving a parent is like grieving your childhood. Things that come to mind are now tinged with different feelings. For example, a walk in nature might trigger sadness if that is something that you did with your dad growing up. All the associations come into your awareness, and it can be quite overwhelming. Here are some suggestions that might be helpful.

• Talk with others who have been through this. It is almost a rite of passage that takes you from one station in life to another without any opportunity to predict what the experience will actually feel like when it happens. It is so profound that is comforting to know others understand and have survived it. Grief support groups can also be a helpful resource.

• Try to keep some sense of normalcy. It is a balancing act to honor what you are going through while continuing to live your life and maintain some sort of routine.

• Try to give yourself more space to allow for all of the emotions. This is not a time to push yourself. You may not feel up to doing the same things you usually have energy to do. Your world might feel a little inside out right now. There is no way to predict or control your feelings. Allow for them. Share if you need to. Journaling can be another helpful tool as it helps externalize the feelings.

• Lean into your faith or spiritual side. This is a time when that aspect of your life can be quite helpful, although it can also be difficult for those who feel angry with God for allowing this to happen.

• Take care of yourself. You need YOU at a time like this. It’s more important than ever to keep healthy sleeping and eating routines.

• If you are feeling overwhelmed with grief, imagine what life might be like a year from now. It does get easier, but the only way out is through the discomfort.

• Prioritize and deal with what is most important. There will be so many things to deal with from funeral arrangements to legal issues. Simplify and do just what is necessary.

• Ask for help. Some people want to help but don’t know what you need. Maybe you want someone to talk to, or maybe you need help with practical things like having someone watch your kids, or help making meals. It may be more courageous to ask for help than to try to go it alone. Be courageous.

• Know that this is a huge transition. If it is your second parent it is common to feel like an orphan and that you have lost any chance to return home. There may be regrets or guilt that can complicate things. Sometimes losing a parent is like losing your best friend. Whatever the dynamic, grief and healing are often messy. If you feel stuck in the grief process, or just want more support, seeing a therapist or a spiritual guide may be helpful.

• Many fear that if they don’t hold on they will forget the loved one who has passed. Sometimes creating some type of memorial can help. Setting up regular donations to a parent’s favorite charity, planting a tree or creating memorial at a church or college they attended are all ways of honoring a loved one in perpetuity.

• Allow yourself to be creative. A friend of ours set up an area of wind chimes that serves as a reminder of her parents whenever the wind blows.

— Ed Bloch, LSCSW, and Jena Bloch, LCMFT, are directors of the Life Enrichment Center in Lawrence.

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