» » The Loss of a Parent: Part 1 of 3

The Loss of a Parent: Part 1 of 3


The loss of a parent signals many significant changes in the life of a family. Not only is there grief over the loss, but often this is accompanied by a feeling of vulnerability to the next generation. Just as we often first experience aging in the faces and lives of our parents, we also are directly confronted with our own mortality through the loss of a parent.

Grief is a “tricky” emotion…you never know when it will rear up or what will trigger feelings of grief. We will talk more about that in another area.

Structural changes in the family also take place in the death of a parent. If the parent was seen as the “leader” of the family, a new matriarch/patriarch will often emerge. There may be friction among other family members to fill the void of the parent. If the parent was the central focus of the family for holidays and other occasions, this will require realignment. If the parent was a difficult personality, the family might experience some relief, along with the sense of loss. Sometimes the loss of one or both parents fractures the family for good.

What happens most frequently is that the children and other family members begin to realize how much the spouses relied on one another to manage their daily lives. It is common to hear from family members that, “between the two (spouses), they actually functioned as one whole person.” This is often reflective of the fact that one or both parents may have had some physical or cognitive losses, but that they learned to compensate for one another and therefore continued to maintain stability in the home. Children, especially those who live at a distance, might not realize how extensive the losses of the remaining spouse are. So very often, upon the death of one parent, families are confronted with the realization of significant decline in the remaining parent.

the need may exist
to begin to introduce
help for daily functioning

In addition to supporting the remaining parent through their grief, the need may exist to begin to introduce help for daily functioning. Whenever possible, help should be introduced in small increments to allow for adjustment to the new life phase. There are clearly times when this is not possible, for example in a health crisis or when the remaining parent is really not capable of more than limited independence. At these times, help may need to be introduced on a more intense basis with the hope of scaling back when the situation becomes more stable.

The loss of one parent is often not the right time to consider a move of the other. There are exceptions to this when the remaining parent has a dementing illness or if there are serious chronic care needs that require oversight. In the latter circumstance, it is a good idea to hire a Geriatric Care Manager (GCM) to oversee the care of the parent and to help know when it may be time to move. The GCM can also help with finding the most appropriate living situation in the new community and to prepare for the move with the family and elder. More on this topic will be in our next post.

Do you have an experience to share about the loss of a parent, or a parent with a dementing illness?  Share it with us…