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Losing a parent

The death of your mother or father, or the person you see as your mum or dad, can be an incredibly painful experience. You might find that you go through a range of emotions, including shock, regret, or anger, and that these feelings change over time.

It can be difficult to come to terms with this loss in your life, but we’re here to help. On this page, you’ll find information about how the death of your parent can affect you, as well as advice to help you cope with your grief.

Feelings and emotions

Parents are important figures in life. Whether you were close, or you had a more difficult relationship, coping with your mum or dad’s death can be really hard.

As people get older, it’s common to think that you shouldn’t be as upset as you are when your parent dies. This can be because it’s considered more “normal” for this to happen as you progress through life, but this doesn’t mean how you’re feeling is wrong.

It is never childish to feel affected by the death of a parent, and it’s okay to feel upset. Parents are parents, and you will always be their child.

You may find that you go through different emotions as you try to process the death of your mum or dad. Your grief might leave you feeling shocked and sad, but you might also become angry about their death, feel guilty or feel regret.

Why you feel a certain way can depend on lots of factors, including how close you were, how they died or how you feel you left things before their death.

If you were close to your mother or father, their death can leave you feeling lost as you look back towards your childhood. It’s likely that they are present in many of your memories, so losing that connection to your past can be hard to face.

If you didn’t have contact with your parent when they die, your grief may be more complicated. But just because you didn’t have a relationship at the time of their death, it doesn’t mean you can’t grieve for them when they die.

The death of your parent can also shine a huge spotlight on the things you feel like you missed out on while they were alive. This can leave you grieving for what should have been, or the relationship you wish you had, as well as their death.

You may experience feelings of regret during this time, or relief that they are no longer part of your life. Anger and sadness are also common as you come to terms with the fact they weren’t the person you needed them to be. These are all normal feelings, so try not to worry if your emotions take you by surprise.

A sense of relief is also common among people whose parents have died from a terminal illness, or who have helped to care for them. This is because seeing someone you love in pain can be incredibly hard. Feeling relieved that they are no longer suffering is a common reaction, and it’s important not to feel guilty about experiencing this emotion.

How the death of your parent can affect you

A loss of direction

Coming to terms with your bereavement, and understanding what it means for your identity, can be difficult to process. 

Parents can often be guiding figures in life, and their death can leave you feeling adrift or without direction. Not having that daily connection can be hard to cope with if you talked or messaged regularly. And you might struggle to know who to turn to if they were the first person you went to for advice. 

Try not to keep things to yourself while you’re grieving, and where you can - let others in. Speaking to people who were close to your parent, such as their best friends, can often be comforting and helpful too. 

If you spent time caring for your parent near the end of their life, you can also feel lost or like you’ve lost your purpose. These feelings can become stronger after the funeral has passed, especially if you’re struggling to manage the new spare time in your day.

Changes in the family dynamic

People often find that the death of their parent leads them to start questioning their role in their family.

Some people find that their role changes, and they feel more like a child again after their parent’s death. Others find that they feel more like an adult as they take on more responsibility, particularly if their siblings start looking to them for support within the family dynamic.

This change in role can also lead to sacrifices, such as the loss of dreams, future plans or your identity. Someone wanting to travel the world might have to choose to stay at home to help their sibling. And someone who becomes a carer to their surviving parent might find that they experience changes to their social life or sense of self.

These are all factors that can affect coping with grief, but we’re here for you with advice and support

Your relationship with your surviving parent

Your relationship with your surviving parent may also change after the death of your mother or father.

If your parents were still together, you might find that you get to know them better and more as an individual than before.

If your parents separated, you might find that your grief is different from your surviving parent’s grief. This can be particularly hard to deal with if they hold negative feelings towards their ex-partner.

Seeing your surviving parent enter into a new relationship can also be difficult, and it can take time to accept these changes in your life.

Explaining the death of a parent to a child

Telling your child that their mum or dad has died will be very difficult, both for the child and for you, if you are the person telling them.

It’s important that someone they trust talks to them about what has happened, but you might want someone else there, such as a sibling or grandparent, to support you with any questions they might have.

If they are young, your child may not fully understand the concept of someone dying, so it's important that you try to explain things as clearly as possible.

They might not understand what you are trying to say to start with, and they might not know that death is final. We know these conversations can be difficult, but our webpage about telling a child a loved one is dying has advice to help you and your child through this difficult time.

Processing this news can take time, and you might find that your child’s grief is confused or delayed. Often, they might not realise they are grieving or that the feelings they have are in response to the death of their parent. What’s important is that they know it’s OK to feel upset or have different feelings over time.

If you’re looking for more support, we have more advice about supporting a child through bereavement too. This includes a list of books to help children understand and come to terms with their grief.

Telling your child’s school or college

If your child is still in education, try to tell their school or institution about what has happened.

This is important for teachers and support staff, as knowing about the bereavement can help them to better understand your child’s behaviour. If they don’t know about it, they might not be able to support your child in the right way.

Explaining the death of a grandparent to your child

If you have children, explaining the death of a grandparent can be upsetting for everyone involved. Younger children in particular can find it hard to understand why your mum or dad won't be coming back, and this can be difficult to explain.

While you might feel like you need to remain strong in front of them, try not to be afraid to show your emotions. Instead, telling them why you feel sad and explaining that it’s OK for them to feel the same way can help them process their own emotions.

If your child asks to go to the funeral, we also have advice and support to help you.

Coping with your grief after the death of your parent

When you’re grieving, there’s no timeline to follow. That’s why you might have days where life feels like it has gone back to normal, and others where your grief feels all-consuming. It can sometimes be hard to understand how you’re feeling or put it into words, but not being OK and not knowing why you’re feeling that way is OK too.

On the days when things feel particularly hard, here is some advice to help you get through. 

Talk about your feelings with others

Being open about your grief with trusted friends and family members can help. If you are finding it hard to bring the topic up, start with something very simple such as “I’d like to talk” and take the conversation on from there.

Alternatively, you might want to arrange some time for your family to openly discuss their grief. It can help to learn about everyone’s approach to coping, so you can understand how best to support each other. Family meetings might be good for this, where everyone gets time to speak and share their thoughts and feelings. 

Bereavement support

If you don’t want to reach out to family or friends, you could try speaking to your GP about the bereavement services available to you.

We’re also here to help with a range of online bereavement support services. Our Online Bereavement Community is a safe space to talk to others who understand what you’re going through. You don’t need an account to read what people are saying, but you will need an account if you want to share your own experience.

As well as our Online Community, we also have lots of information about the grieving process on Grief Guide and our website. Plus, our Online Bereavement Counselling Service offers free and professional video counselling to help you process the death of your parent and what it means for your life now.

Find ways to remember them

You might find it helpful to think about the ways you might want to remember your parent and share these with your family. It might be a memory box or photo album, creating and listening to a playlist of their favourite music, or getting together to remember them among loved ones.

If you’re supporting a child with their grief too, you might want to consider getting a piece of their parent’s clothing made into a cushion or teddy bear. This can give them something to hold on to and keep as a physical reminder of their parent’s presence.

Important dates or anniversaries

Your parent’s birthday, the anniversary of their death or certain days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas can be hard to cope with after they die.

If you feel able useful to consider how you are going to deal with these days when they come around and whether you want to mark the day. While some people decide to ignore the day, others prefer to carry on traditions or try something new in their honour.

You might want time alone to reflect or gather with friends and family to celebrate their memory. Do what feels right for you and helps you to cope with your grief.

A black woman sits on a double bed next to a younger black male whilst they both look thoughtfully at a laptop. The son leans his head against his mother's.

Online Bereavement Support

Access a range of support including free video counselling, an online community, plus advice and resources.

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