Young People Ask
How Can I Cope With the Death of a Parent?
“When Mom died, I felt completely lost and empty. She was the glue that held our family together.”—Karyn.*
FEW things in life will ever affect you more deeply than the death of a parent. Not only do you have to endure the intense pain of loss but you are also left to face a future that will likely be quite different from what you had expected.
Perhaps you had hoped that your beloved mom or dad would be there when you finally got a driver’s license or graduated from school or that he or she would share in the joy of your wedding day. Now these hopes have been shattered, leaving you saddened, frustrated, or even angry. How can you cope with the flood of emotions that comes from losing a parent in death?
‘Am I Normal?’
When first hit with the reality of your mom or dad’s death, you may be forced to contend with a range of emotions that you have never experienced before. Brian, who was only 13 when his father died from a heart attack, says, “The night we found out, all we could do was cry and embrace each other.” Natalie, who was ten when her dad died of cancer, recalls: “I didn’t know what to feel. So I felt nothing. I was void of emotion.”
Death affects each person differently. Indeed, the Bible says that “each one” has “his own plague and his own pain.” (2 Chronicles 6:29) With that in mind, take a moment to think about how your parent’s death has affected you. Below, describe (1) how you felt when you first found out about your parent’s death and (2) how you feel now.*
Perhaps your answers reveal that your emotions are, at least to a degree, leveling off. This is normal. It does not mean that you have forgotten your parent. On the other hand, you may find that your emotions are still the same or are even more intense. Maybe your grief comes in waves that seem to ebb and flow and then “crash ashore” at unexpected moments. This too is normal—even if it occurs years after your parent’s death. The question is, How can you cope with your grief—whatever form it takes?
Ways to Cope
Don’t hold back the tears! Crying helps ease the pain of grief. However, you may feel the way Alicia did, who was 19 when her mother passed away. She relates, “I felt that if I showed too much emotion, it would seem to others that I lacked faith.” But think: Jesus Christ was a perfect man who had strong faith in God. Yet, he “gave way to tears” over the death of his dear friend Lazarus. (John 11:35) So don’t be afraid to let your tears flow. It does not mean that you lack faith! Alicia says: “Eventually, I cried. A lot. Every day.”*
Address feelings of guilt. “I always went upstairs and kissed my mom good night,” says Karyn, who was 13 when her mom died. “There was one time that I didn’t do that. The next morning, Mom passed away. As unrealistic as it sounds, I feel guilty for not having seen her that last night—and for the chain of events that occurred the next morning. My dad left on a business trip and wanted me and my sister to look in on Mom. But we slept late. When I went into the bedroom, Mom wasn’t breathing. I felt terrible, because she was OK when Dad left!”
Like Karyn, perhaps you feel a measure of guilt for things you neglected to do. You might even torture yourself with “if onlys.” ‘If only I had urged Dad to see a doctor.’ ‘If only I had checked on Mom earlier.’ If such thoughts plague you, remember this: It’s normal to feel regret over things you wish you had done differently. The fact is, you would have done things differently had you known what would happen. But you did not know. Therefore, guilt is inappropriate. You are not responsible for your parent’s death!*
Communicate your feelings. Proverbs 12:25 states: “Kind words will cheer you up.” (Today’s English Version) Keeping your feelings bottled up inside may make it difficult for you to deal with your grief. On the other hand, discussing your feelings with someone you trust will open the way for you to receive “kind words” of encouragement when you need them most. Therefore, why not try one or more of the following suggestions?
Talk to your surviving parent. Though this is a difficult time for your surviving dad or mom, he or she undoubtedly still wants to provide the assistance you need. So let your surviving parent know how you feel. Such discussions will no doubt relieve you of some of your grief and draw the two of you closer together.
To help start a conversation, try this exercise: List two or three things that you wish you could have known about your deceased dad or mom, and then ask to discuss one of these with your surviving parent.*
Talk to close friends. The Bible says that true companions are “born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) “The person you least expect may be the one who helps you,” says Alicia. “So don’t be afraid to talk about it.” Admittedly, such conversations might be a bit awkward, as you and your friend struggle to find the right words to say. In the long run, though, it will do you good to talk to others about your grief. David, who was only nine years old when his father suffered a fatal heart attack, recalls: “I kept all my feelings locked up inside me. It would have been healthier for me if I had talked more about it. I could have coped better.”
Talk to God. Likely, you will feel much better after you “pour out your heart” to Jehovah God in prayer. (Psalm 62:8) This is not simply a ‘feel-good therapy.’ In prayer, you are appealing to “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.”—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
One way that God provides comfort is through his holy spirit. It can infuse you with “power beyond what is normal,” so that you can endure the pain of grief. (2 Corinthians 4:7) God also provides “comfort from the Scriptures.” (Romans 15:4) So ask God for his spirit, and take time to read the encouragement found in his Word, the Bible. (2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17) Why not keep handy a list of scriptures that are particularly comforting to you?*
Will the Pain Ever End?
Grieving is not an overnight process. “It’s not as though you just ‘get over it,’” says Brianne, whose mom died when Brianne was 16. “I have my days when I just cry myself to sleep. Other times, I try to focus, not on my loss, but on the promises Jehovah has in store for me to enjoy with my mom in Paradise.”
The Bible assures us that in the Paradise to which Brianne refers, “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” (Revelation 21:3, 4) You too may find that meditating on such promises will help you to cope with the loss of your parent.
More articles from the “Young People Ask” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/ype
Names in this article have been changed.
If answering these questions is too difficult at present, you might try to do so at a later time.
Don’t feel that you must cry to manifest your grief. People grieve in different ways. The important thing is this: If you feel tears welling up, realize that it may be “a time to weep.”—Ecclesiastes 3:4.
If such thoughts continue to plague you, share your feelings with your surviving parent or another adult. In time, you will acquire a more balanced outlook.
If you were raised by a single parent or if because of circumstances your surviving parent is not a part of your life, you might confide in a mature adult.
TO THINK ABOUT
◼ Which suggestions in this article will you use? ․․․․․
◼ Below, list a few scriptures that will comfort you when grief seems overwhelming. ․․․․․
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IT’S OK TO CRY . . . THEY DID!
Mary, the sister of Lazarus—John 11:32, 33.
Mary Magdalene—John 20:11.
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KEEP A JOURNAL
Writing down your thoughts about the parent you lost can be a tremendous aid in coping with grief. There are many things you could write about. Below are a few suggestions.
◼ List some pleasant memories you have of your parent.
◼ Write down what you wish you could have said to your parent while he or she was still alive.
◼ Imagine that you have a younger sibling who struggles with feelings of guilt over the death of your parent. Write what you would say to comfort your sibling. This can help you to put your own feelings of guilt into perspective.
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A NOTE TO THE SURVIVING PARENT
Grieving the loss of a mate is a painful experience. Yet, it has come at a time when your adolescent child needs your help. How can you help him to cope with his grief, while not ignoring your own?*
Resist the urge to hide your feelings. Your child has learned many of his most valuable lessons in life by watching you. Learning how to cope with grief will be no exception. Thus, do not feel that you must be strong for the child by hiding all your grief from him. This may only teach your adolescent to do the same. In contrast, when you express your emotional pain, he learns that feelings are often better expressed than suppressed and that it is normal for him to feel saddened, frustrated, or even angry.
Encourage your adolescent child to talk. Without making him feel pressured, encourage your adolescent child to discuss what is in his heart. If he seems reluctant, why not discuss this article together? Also, talk about the many fond memories you have of your deceased mate. Acknowledge how difficult it will be for you to carry on. Hearing you express your feelings will help your adolescent learn how to do the same.
Recognize your limitations. Understandably, you want to be an unfailing support for your adolescent child during this difficult time. But remember, you have been severely affected by the loss of your beloved mate. So your emotional, mental, and physical stamina may be somewhat diminished for a time. (Proverbs 24:10) Hence, you may need to call on the assistance of other adult family members and mature friends for support. Asking for help is a sign of maturity. Proverbs 11:2 says: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.”
The best support you can have comes from Jehovah God himself, who promises his worshippers: “I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’”—Isaiah 41:13.
For simplicity, we refer to the child as a male. However, the principles discussed apply to both genders.
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Grief can be like waves that crash ashore at unexpected moments