When Your Parents Die

It happens to all of us. Death is a part of life. Even if you know it’s coming, nothing prepares you for the death of your parent, or any loved one.

When I was 11 years old, my father died in a sudden and tragic way. He committed suicide. The circumstances around his death were just as horrible as the death itself.

It was 1982. Nobody talked about depression. Suicide was taboo. You heard rumors about it but it was shameful, embarrassing. So when my dad died, nobody talked to me about it.

My mom, who had divorced him, never talked to me. In those days, therapy for kids was very rare. So I received no counseling. I mourned in silence. I was not allowed to attend the funeral.

I hate the term “closure” but it applies here. Since I never had closure, I continued to mourn for years and years. It traumatized me. And I believe it contributed to my mental illness.

Today as I write this, I am sitting in a chair beside my mother’s hospital bed. She has been living with a rare form of leukemia for almost 2 years. We’ve known all along it was terminal.

After the initial shock wore off, I tried to make the most of my time with her. My mother and I have never been close. So in my mind, I was hoping to gain that closeness now. It didn’t happen.

She was an inconsistent and neglectful mother. But when I really needed her, she was there for me. I do have some resentment towards her. For example, she has never accepted my son. He was either too disruptive, or later, too fat. She hated fat people.

My mom

When your parent is dying, you may decide to forgive and forget. You may decide to hell with them. I understand both. My sister has been a saint throughout my mother’s illness, and she was much more mistreated as a child than I was.

Personally, I just don’t have it in me to watch someone slowly die. I’m not that strong. I do forgive her. I love her dearly. But sitting here, watching her withering away, all I want to do is leave.

I don’t know which is worse. A loved one who dies suddenly or one who goes through a long illness. And I have no consoling words for someone who loses a child. I imagine that would be the very worst kind of grief.

What makes me the most anxious right now is the thought that I will be an orphan. I don’t have a big family, hardly any. I will be alone and that scares me.

13 thoughts on “When Your Parents Die

  1. Well, I am so sorry to her about your losses and the stress of the loss now.
    I have a few thoughts.
    1) Things are what they are, so its normal to feel like leaving and wanting to stay at the same time. Welcome to the complexity of life. When my mother died I slept in the hospital room with her for several days but she didn’t die. she was getting palliative care. it was to be just hours but hours went into days. The nurses said, likely if you go, like many others do, she will relax and just pass away. Some times people stay just to hold on to you. So, talk with your doctors, come and visit, try to have a few meaningful times and say good bye till the next time I see you. That way if she goes and you are away, you said your good byes but if not your next visit doesn’t feel strange.
    When I went home, that very night she passed away. And so, since I did not see her, and I didn’t have a chance to help with the arrangements, my sister suggested I be the one to lower the remains into the ground. My mother was cremated.
    That was nice, and what was better about the whole thing was that I saw most of the family. My mother was very hard on me. Even in the hospital she was very self serving in getting in a rude comment or two cause that was her way of pushing you down and lifting herself up. I have learned that was a reflection on her, not on who I was. And any grain of truth to any statement if there was could be dealt with, but at least I did not carry on the gene that desired to harm others. If I harmed those who harmed me there would be a tornado swath of destruction. Its no longer an eye for an eye. nursing that pain in itself is destructive. Its easier to just say, well, you gave me more trouble than one should expect but I love you anyways.
    My Dad died many years later. He sort of abandoned all of us. Not that he didn’t provide shelter but emotionally he was not there. His first marriage was hard. to of his kids shot one another. I will have to do an Op on that one. And then when my own brother was getting married, his last son from the first marriage was travelling from BC to Ontario and had just left going through the BC mountains, and fell asleep at the wheel and died in the car crash. So my Father was not available nor spoke about much. And add the war in to that, his trouble with my mother like we all had, and us kids, didn’t get the nurture we needed.

    So I understand the loss and abandonment issues and the co-dependency etc. We are Adult children of Dysfunctional families. And we enjoy it when people make sense. We need people to make sense of things. And we know it when it makes sense.

    These moments will be one of those things you remember in your life. So do all the normal things and look after yourself as well, and be kind to the others grieving. And be kind to your mother, you won’t make any points for correcting the score.

    Sorry for your loss, your double loss really, and now years later I know it fades, but is still part of who we are.

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      1. There is a good little book called, Adult children of Dysfunctional families and another Adult children of Alcoholics. And another bigger one Championing the inner child. If you took that book to a Therapist and worked through it, (that is what they recommend.) there is some real healing of things that you would think you couldn’t get healing of. Some how they detach the emotion from a past event and use your older self to go back and take your younger self by the hand. You end up rescuing yourself and re-defining what was right in that situation. its a real heavy, and one that needs a therapist to process you through it. Because some memories and events are so painful without help going right into those moments can wipe you out for a year. But with help, they can tie it up in a bow, re-frame it, rescue you and restore a broken piece.
        A Psychologist friend of mine gave me the book. She is now dead, it was tough going to her funeral, but she sure was a lot of help when she was alive to thousands of people.


  2. So sorry to hear of your loss. It must be difficult. I’m so lucky to still have both parents (mum and my adorable step dad) who are in their mid 70’s now. I’m not sure how I’ll cope when they die. My birth father died about 7/8 years ago and because I didn’t like him, I didn’t go to the funeral. I didn’t even shed a tear. Perhaps I will cry for him one day? Anyway, you take care of yourself. Love Caz x

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  3. Your post is extremely powerful and very raw. I can’t imagine what you are going through at the moment. Struggling to feel love yet torn with sadness from a distant mother when you were growing up. You will be going through many mixed emotions now and even more so when your mum passes. Just remember you are a mum yourself now and you won’t repeat episodes of the past with your own family. You will never be alone, you have all of us to reach out to whenever you want to chat. Stay strong, keep up with your medication because losing a family member will test your limits. Be kind to yourself, live with no regrets and take one day at a time.


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