What Is Adult Child Loss?
Losing a child - at any age - defies nature. Parents should not bury their children. The sorrow and loss is unimaginable, shattering, and the grief all-encompassing. Every relationship changes, the family structure is forever altered, and the table is always missing one.
Read more about how to cope with grieving.
When an adult child dies, grief and grieving can be especially difficult for parents. Their child is seen as an adult; therefore the loss should be less profound and have less of an impact on his or her parents. Even the most well-meaning of people can forget that when a husband of a friend passes away that man was also someone's son. His mother, his father, his family, they grieve, too.
Parents who have lost an adult child find that their grief and grieving is complex.
What Is Loss?
Loss is the involuntary separation from something we have possessed and perhaps even treasured, or someone we love and care about.
Everyone experiences a loss at some point in their lives - whether or not it is major or minor. Loss is universal.
Loss involves emotional pain. Significant losses produce emotional upheaval. Loss requires change and uncertainty and adjustments to new situations, unchosen and uncertain.
There is no right or wrong way to feel after you experience a loss. Minor losses, such as the loss of an opportunity, may bring feelings of frustration, disappointment, or anger. Major losses can lead to similar feelings, overwhelming feelings, sadness, pain, or numbness.
You do not have to be "strong" after a loss to protect others around you. Expressing emotion is how the body and mind process and relieve the pressure of intense or overwhelming emotions. Crying or expressing other emotions does not make you less of a person. It is also not uncommon for people to feel numb. People who don't cry may still be feeling the effects of a loss. Everyone expresses their pain differently.
No one can tell you how you should feel about something. Anyone who tries to tell you that how you are feeling is wrong is wrong.
What Are The Types of Loss?
Sudden Losses are losses that happen due to accidents, crimes, or suicides, and they do not give us any time to prepare. These type of losses often shake us to the core, making us question the stability of life. The loss can feel immediate, severe, and agonizing. It can be difficult to sort through many emotions and feelings at the same time, and it may take time and space to adjust to the loss.
Predictable Losses, like those due to terminal illness, allow for us to prepare for the loss, but also create two layers of grief. Anticipatory grief (the grief related to the anticipation of the loss) and the grief related to the loss itself.
One reason loss is so difficult is that it can be permanent. As humans, our lives are so fluid that the idea of permanence can be difficult to grasp. Further, if your life is structured around the person, object, or concept lost, it can be difficult to adjust to new patterns and routines.
What Parents May Experience After Losing An Adult Child:
Guilt: Many parents who lose an adult child feel intense guilt over having outlived their child. This guilt is compounded if the death was caused by socially unacceptable conditions like suicide or drug addiction. Grieving parents wonder how they could have prevented the death of their adult child, especially when others make judgmental statements about their child.
Discounted Grief: In the name of "comfort" (note the quotes), people will often make statements like, "Well, at least you had xxx years with him." Statements like that insinuate that the bereaved parent should be grateful for the time they spent with their child, not sad that their child has passed away.
Grieving Alongside Their Child's Spouse/Partner/Children: Often, an adult child will already have a spouse or partner and children. The focus of the support and grieving will be focused highly on them and not the parent. This hurts. Grandchildren will need to be comforted so the stress can be taken off the spouse or partner. This often falls to the grandparents and is exhausting for parents who are already grieving. Parents will also worry about who will take care of them when they are older now that their child is gone.
Grieving When Their Partner Dates or Remarries: Often, the widow or widower will rekindle some sort of relationship with someone else after a loss. If there are children involved, the parents of the deceased adult child will more than likely be involved in the new life with the new partner. Sometimes this is a happy occasion, sometimes it's not. Whether the relationship with the new partner is amicable or not, the grief is often revisited because the loss is realized as life has moved on.
Issues Surrounding the Death of an Adult Child:
Losses, at any age, have an immense amount of issues associated with that loss. When an adult child dies, the parent of an adult child may experience the following:
Parents who have lost an adult child who was unmarried will have to contend with estates, wills, legal issues, property, finances.
Parents who have lost an adult child who was married, the focus of grief and comfort will be upon the family of the deceased child, not the parents.
If the adult child had children, the grandchildren will need comforting, as the spouse of the deceased adult child will be in shock and denial. That responsibility often rests upon the grandparents, or the parents of the adult child.
How to Cope With Losing An Adult Child:
Grief is one of the most common reactions to a loss. There are typically five stages of grief:
These stages may happen in any order, at any time, or not at all. Some people feel some but not all of the stages of grief. Because there is not a typical loss and each situation is different, it is hard to figure out what a "typical reaction" is. Some people feel:
- Shock and disbelief - difficulty accepting what happened, numbness
- Sadness - one of the more common feelings experienced. This may also be emptiness, despair, loneliness, and crying
- Guilt - Things you said, shouldn't have said, or wanted to say, not preventing the death
- Anger - feelings of anger and resentment
- Physical symptoms - aches, pains, headaches, nausea, changes in sleep or weight
However you are feeling, it can be overwhelming and out of control. One way to manage intense emotions is to observe them, describe them, and label them. Sometimes putting a name to your emotion can help you express it. Also remember that we experience emotions like a wave- the emotion will build, crest, and recede.
How To Handle The Loss of an Adult Child:
Talk to friends and family who love you and make you feel good about yourself. Lean on people who love you and care about you.
Don't expect that you're going to "get over it." The only way to "get over" a loss is to go through the stages of grieving. There's no reason to try to be the strong one - just let yourself feel however you feel.
Write about it. Sometimes the act of writing down how you're feeling can help solidify those feelings and help you to grieve your loss.
Let yourself feel the loss. The only way to get through a loss is to go through the stages of grief. You can't bypass it, no matter how much you'd like to. Sit with your feelings and acknowledge them.
Talk to a therapist or grief counselor - someone who is trained to help you get through your grief.
Exercise - exercise releases endorphins, which are the "feel-good" hormones.
Don't minimize your own loss. If it was a loss, it was a loss. Losses are meant to be grieved.
Don't compare your loss to others' loss. It's apples and oranges. You feel a loss how you feel it, not how someone else feels it.
Be sure to take care of yourself. Go through your daily hygiene routines, get up, and do something.
IT'S OKAY TO BE SAD!
How to Comfort Yourself after Losing an Adult Child:
Take care of your health: It's easy to neglect yourself while grieving. Remember to eat well, sleep on a normal schedule, and get outside for some exercise.
Share your feelings: Talk about your child, your sadness, and your anger. Write in a journal. Start a blog. Post here! Get your feelings out.
Be kind and patient: Be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve and also permission to have fun. Some things will take longer and more energy than others, so be patient. Healing isn't going to happen overnight.
Surround yourself with memories: You have years of memories. Don't put them in a box and stuff them in the attic. Make sure you have pictures and reminders around you. It's painful at times, but it's healing to be able to see their face, smiling and healthy. This is especially important if your child had a terminal illness and was in a hospital or hospice facility at the end of their life. You want to remember them as the happy, vibrant, and smiling person they were.
Join a support group or see a counselor: Many places offer support groups for various illnesses and causes of death. Churches and hospitals are among the most common. Support groups are wonderful resources for realizing you are not alone in your pain. You will learn and heal from the compassion of others, and they will heal from the support from you.
Let people help. When people ask what you need, don't hesitate to tell them. People want to help; they simply may not know how to help.
Be okay with not being okay. You'll probably question your faith. Your life. You'll wonder if you could've prevented the death of your child. These are normal - and really tough - things to conquer. Don't expect that you'll be okay for awhile after the loss.
Find a therapist who specializes in bereavement - this can be your lifeline to getting your life back. Things will never be normal again, but they will be okay. In time. A counselor may help you work through specific parts of your grief on an individual basis.
Establish a memorial or do something positive to commemorate your child. Form your own support group. Give back to the community. Fund a bench in a park or plant a tree in their honor.
Remember the good times and the bad. Don't spend all your time focusing on the loss of your child or how he or she died; remember the happy times, too.
Resources for Grieving Parents:
Compassionate Friends - The mission of The Compassionate Friends is to assist families toward the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child of any age and to provide information to help others be supportive. (Mission Statement)
CancerCare - This site offers resources for people of all ages fighting cancer or caring for someone fighting cancer.
Recover From Grief - A site run by a former ICU nurse and Certified Grief Counselor. Offers resources on healing and moving forward after the death of an adult child.
Bereaved Parents - This site offers support and resources for grieving parents of adult children.
Grieving Dads - A wonderful site with a blog, designed specifically for grieving fathers.