There are many books designed to give advice about how to deal with the loss of a parent. Unfortunately, the odds of a book helping are rather slim. Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with it myself. But as a person who has parents and is a parent, I’ve learned one thing. Even though relationships share a title, they vary wildly.
This is true of all relationships. It drives me nuts when I hear someone saying what it’s like to be a parent. There’s no way it is to be a parent. Some parents are caring, affectionate, and involved. Other parents neglect and beat their kids. And there’s everything in between. Even if you limit it to good parents, some are emotional and some are stern. Some are overprotective and some let kids make their own mistakes. That kind of variation combined with all the same variations in children leads to many different types of relationships. How are you supposed to say anything that’s generally true about dealing with the loss of a parent? The best we can ask for is some general things that we can hope for.
First, and I know this sounds strange, we can hope that the loss of a parent hurts. The amount of pain at the end of a relationship (and that’s really what a death is) is directly related to the strength of that relationship. The stronger the relationship, the more it hurts when it’s over. So, hoping the loss of a parent hurts is also hoping that you had a good relationship. We can also hope that the person will live on with you, as they say. This is another way of saying that the person has changed you, hopefully for the better. With parents, that can mean many things. You may look like your parents, you may have learned from them, your sense of style might have come from them, there are many possibilities. Those things are pieces of them that have become part of you and will live on. We can hope that the parent has lived a good life, and I mean good in the sense of the Greek eudaimonia. There is some debate about the way this should be translated, but the way I have always looked at is as a kind of satisfaction. If it were possible to look at your life after it is over, would you be satisfied with it? This doesn’t mean that everything went perfectly, nor does it mean that no mistakes were made. It just means that the important things were done right.
As I said at the beginning, every relationship is different. When the time comes, there is nothing I can tell you about how to deal with the loss of a parent. We each mourn in our own way, and each way is equally valid (provided it doesn’t harm anyone else). The only thing I can say is to keep a few things in mind. If it hurts, that’s good. It means you had a strong relationship. The bigger influence your parents had on you, the more they will live on through you. If they lived a good life, you should be satisfied with that, since they would have been satisfied with it. And if none of these things applies, you’re probably not looking for help in dealing with the loss anyway.