Question: What does losing a parent in your 20s feel like and what should I do?
Losing a parent in your 20s is probably one of the most difficult episodes for a young adult. Your life takes on new meanings and your responsibilities change overnight. It can also feel like your key foundation in your life has crumbled.
Grieving the loss of your parent is a difficult task, but this can even be more so when you’re still in your 20s. While you’re still learning to navigate through life and have yet to fully develop as an adult, this period of transition can be challenging.
All your plans for the future will be interrupted. Your hopes that your mom or dad will be at your college graduation, wedding day, birth of your first child, all these will be “hopes of the past”. You will no longer be able to pick up the phone and call your parent for advice, or hear your loved one’s voice on the line.
However, all these will soon pass – the overwhelming sense of loss, shock and denial will find closure. Before realizing it, you’ll start living in the present and let go of the past.
Loss and grief affects everyone differently regardless of age and gender. But those who lose their parents in their 20s face unique sets of difficulties relating to emotional and financial well being. Below are some tips that should help you through this challenging period.
- Allow yourself time to grieve
- Learn about grief
- Speaking to a therapist
- Support surviving parent
- Making end of life plans
- Joining a grief support group
- Asking your extended family members for support
- Finding a new purpose in life
- Taking care of yourself
- Keep a journal
- Display reminders of your late parent at home
- Quoting your late parent often
Allow Yourself Time to Grieve
As a young adult, you probably haven’t experience loss at any level yet. When you lose a parent at a young age, you’ll struggle through emotions that are not familiar to you. While you may have seen others managed their own grief after the loss of a loved one, no one has formally spoken to your about death, loss and suffering before.
Understand that losing a parent is a life changing event. Where you’ll definitely experience intense sadness and a feeling of being “lost in life”. And this is true, regardless whether you had a close relationship with your parent who has died or if you rarely ever see them.
Grief typically doesn’t have a expiration date and you’ll likely go through the five common stages of grief – denial, anger, negotiation, depression and acceptance. You’ll experience a change in mood and may even see different perspectives of life during these different stages.
You may also be void of any emotion – some describe it as a feeling of emptiness on the inside. If this happens to you, allow yourself to go through the grieving process as it is. This can take anywhere from six months to several years.
Learn About Grief
At 20 years of age, it’s probably your first time experiencing grief. If you find it difficult to handle grief, you should consider seeking therapy to help cope with grief. The funny thing about grief is that it is such a taboo topic, that it is not taught in school. If this concept is new to you and if you don’t know what to expect, there are many books available on this subject.
Consider visiting your local library to read up and learn about grief. Familiarize yourself with the process so that you’ll feel comfortable when speaking to a therapist.
As a rule of the thumb, always try out different therapist before you settle down with one. If you ever feel uncomfortable with any of their service for any reason, it is completely acceptable to change to another therapist.
Below is a list of steps that’ll help you understand grief better:
- Giving yourself permission to grief
- Acknowledge the loss of your loved one and be ready to grieve
- Familiarize yourself with the grieving process (eg. 5 stages of grief, etc.)
- Find and try out different therapist before settling down on one
- Join a grief support group
- Talk to your friends and family
- Ask for help when needed
- Seek medical attention if you ever feel suicidal or are already abusing drugs or alcohol to deal with your grief
Speaking To A Good Therapist
After the funeral has ended and the shock of death has worn off, you’ll realize that most people move on about their day to day lives. Business as usual and things go back to normal for everyone else except for those who have been closely affected by the death of your parent. This can possibly leave you feeling frustrated and upset, wondering why people can move on that easily.
In this case, finding yourself a good therapist who is able to listen to you and offer sound advice can make your grieving process a lot more manageable. While nothing anyone can say will take away the pain of losing a loved one, but opening up to a therapist can help make the grieving process easier.
Supporting The Surviving Parent Who Is Grieving
Apart from coping with your own grief, you may need to support your surviving parent in their own journey of grief as well. It is a common phenomenon that some people who suffer the loss of a spouse, becomes emotionally unavailable to their children. As such, you should expect this to be a natural reaction and give your surviving parent time to process their grief and mourn their loss at their own pace.
It is likely that you also have the added responsibility of caring for your younger siblings, and have to look after the household for days and weeks to come. It is also likely that if your surviving parents are unable to cope, you’ll need to take care of the important end of life matters. This will include making funeral arrangements, notifying family and friends of your parent’s death and tying up any other loose ends.
As much as possible, try not to hide your grief to protect your surviving parent. Allow yourself to grieve and express yourself- be it whether it’s sadness, fear, anger or guilt. While you may not want to end up being an emotional burden for your surviving loved ones, allowing yourself to grieve gives them permission to grieve allow with you as well.
Making End of Life Planning
After the shock of your parent’s death has worn off, open up and have a chat with your surviving parent about the end of life arrangements and planning in the event of his or her unexpected death.
You may want to have medical directive in place, having a lawyer to draft a will, making advance funeral arrangement or purchasing final expense life insurance. You may also want to discuss on who will take care of the younger children if the other parent dies.
Also consider discussing on sticky subjects such as finances. Determine who will be paying for maintenance, taxes, overall expense of household, etc. If there are insurance policy in place, who’s the primary beneficiary, etc.
Joining A Grief Support Group
Joining a grief support group brings you closer to people who have also experienced the death of a loved one. You’ll find comfort in taking to others who will be able to share the same experience with you. Ideally, you may want to find a support groups that has members who are in the same age group.
As what many have said, you’ll never get over the death of your loved ones as it’ll become part of your life. Through mutual support, your grief will eventually lessen.
Asking Your Extended Family For Support
Reach out to your extended family members to remind them that you’re still grieving. Initiate conversations to talk about your loved ones should you feel like you need to be heard – this helps to ease your grief and suffering. While it may be uncomfortable at first, but the awkwardness will eventually lend it ways to a more meaningful conversations. Remember to always speak to your family members with patience, love and kindness.
Be direct and clear when asking your family members for help. Remember, your family wants to be there for you. Help them to help you by reaching out to them and have open conversations.
Finding A New Purpose In Life
After the emotional roller coaster after death of your parent, you will eventually find that your life is falling back to a new normal. As your grief subside, you may have returned to school or work, and it is now time to give a new meaning / renewed purpose in your life.
There are many things you can do to create new meanings for yourself and your life. Try exploring new hobbies, go back to school, start a new career / a new side hustle.
You can also find a new circle of friends who may better understand you now that you have experienced the loss of your parents – especially friends you have made at grief support groups.
There are many ways where you can create a new life for yourself, all it takes is putting in some effort, getting out there and try new things!
Taking Good Care of Yourself
There is nothing that parents want more than making sure their children is well taken care of, to be safe and happy. When you lose a parent, you are losing someone who has spent two decades showing you with love and taking care of you.
This person is also the person who was always there for you when something went wrong, especially when your life was in a crisis. While this episode may be a hard pill to swallow, you’ll need to pick yourself up and take good care of yourself. Don’t fall into the degenerative lifestyle after the death of your parent – that is the last thing he or she wants to see.
Keeping A Journal
Keeping a journal allows you to have a place to write down all your thoughts, frustrations, fears and etc. Journaling can help you get all the confusing thoughts out of your head onto a paper and allows you to go through them at a later time. Writing letters to my late father is one of my favorite journaling tool. I always journal as much as my schedule allows me to as I find it helpful to look back and see how far I have come and to see how the feelings I have previously felt transformed over time. When you’re grieving, having an outlet like journaling to release anger, sadness and frustration can be very therapeutic.
Display Reminders Of Your Late Parent At Your Home
Putting up reminders in your home that reminds you of your late parent may take you a lot of courage – this is especially true when the loss is still fresh. At the start, it may be painful to look through any of their things as the floods of memories may be too hard to bear. But over time, the weights get lighter and going through their belongings will trigger warm memories instead of intense sadness. I have reminders around the house of pictures of the good times I had with my Dad. It brings me joy and calmness whenever I look at it especially when I am feeling down or encounter troubles in my life.
Quote Your Late Parent Often
The best way to keep your memory of your late parent is to quote him or her often. This is one way that I am able to look back and laugh at my Dad’s old jokes or remember happy moments that we shared.