How to Grieve a Parent's Unexpected Death

Опубликовал Admin
22-03-2021, 23:10
Most people will outlive their parents, and have to deal with their death at some point. But when parents die unexpectedly, when they are still young and healthy, it is hard for children (even adult children) to cope. Here are some tips on how to grieve, and recover, from a devastating unexpected death of a parent.


  1. Take the time you need: at first, you may feel like you are numb, or in shock. Allow yourself the time to just feel sad, or angry, or whatever feelings come. And those feelings are likely to come in waves, slowly. The process of letting go may feel uneven: you'll feel as if you are healing, but then something will trigger more sadness. Give yourself plenty of time for this slow process. There is no right way to feel; accept what comes.
  2. Read or listen to the stories of others: In her memoir North of Hope, Shannon Polson writes about her parents being killed by a grizzly bear while they were on a river trip in the Arctic. She writes: “The shock protects you from the horror for a while, a brief respite from cutting pain to come, a padding of grace. Even when you think you are feeling the pain, it has yet to begin.” If you've lost a parent unexpectedly, reading books like Polson's can help you know you're not alone.
  3. Take a trip: Sometimes visiting your parents' home, or the place they died, can be a healing journey when you're ready for it. A trip to another place that is peaceful might also give the change of scenery and routine you need to bring a different perspective to what otherwise feels debilitating. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, sometimes going to the place where someone died and doing something to remember your loved one may help bring a sense of peace. Polson returned to the Alaskan wilderness where her parents had been killed by a bear. She took the same rafting trip they'd taken, visited the campsite where they'd died. Although it was a demanding trip physically and emotionally, it was ultimately healing. She writes: “I was beginning the same trip they had started a year before. But while the geography and mode of travel were identical, nothing else about this trip was similar. This was not simply a trip into the wilderness, though that would be challenge and adventure enough. This was a journey over the jagged edge of loss.”
  4. Let grief progress toward acceptance: As her trip concluded, Polson realized that she had needed to grieve, but that the best way to honor the loss of her parents was to accept their death, and to go on living herself. She wrote, “This acceptance I was beginning to feel, like the movement of air from a wing, had something to do with surrender. It had something to do with endurance. It had something to do with faith. The line between the living and the dead may not be much of a line at all, but the terrain is not for the weak of heart. It is treacherous going.”
  5. Take care of yourself: When you are lost in grief, it's easy to ignore basic care of yourself—eating well, getting some exercise, getting enough sleep. Some people will try to distract themselves by over-working or staying very busy. You may feel as if you don't care about anything. Even if it feels like just “going through the motions,” make sure you get enough sleep, do your best to eat healthy meals, and take walks or another favorite activity. Grief is exhausting. Reduce your obligations for a while if you can. Go easy on yourself—don't be too self-critical.
  6. Write: As you grieve, you may want to keep a journal or scrapbook in which you can write, or collect photos or memorabilia. Writing down your feelings and memories will help you heal from the loss of your parent. You can do this in a traditional paper journal, or online with a blog or even just journaling on a computer. You may want to read other people's memoirs or blogs about their own grieving process. This doesn't have to be anything you share with anyone else, but the process of writing can itself be healing.


  • Joining a support group or talking to a counselor can also help you in the grieving process.
  • Develop your own rituals. Some people might light a candle in front of a picture of their loved one. Some might arrange flowers on the mantel every week. Coming up with a ritual that has meaning to you can be a helpful part of grieving.
  • Realize that you may not ever find specific answers to why loss like this happens. Polson wrote: “What is known might sometimes sustain us, but what is unknown will save us.”
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Call a friend and ask them to bring dinner over, or even to just come and sit with you. People want to help and don't always know how.
  • Accept help from others. It won't bring your loved ones back, but it will make you feel loved—which you need when you're bereaved.
  • Prayer, if you are a person of faith, can be a very healing and beneficial practice. In times like this, sometimes it is difficult to bring ourselves to even pray. In her memoir North of Hope, Polson wrote these words, which may comfort you: “At times, I have not had words to pray. I believe that it is at those times that God prays for us. When we cannot sing, the universe itself sings.”
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