Grief after the death of a parent

The death of a parent, at any age, is a very significant event.

It can challenge your emotional world and your identity. Whether your relationship with them was close and loving, or a difficult one, you are now faced with the need to grieve for someone who has been a very important part of your life.

Even if distance, conflict, illness or something else have meant you have not seen much of your parent, after their death you may find that you still have powerful feelings of grief.


Some common reactions may include:

  • feelings of sadness, anger, fear, numbness, loneliness, guilt and confusion
  • initial clouding of the memories of a parent by images of their last illness, such as their suffering, the hospital beds, and the drip tubes; these will fade over time so they can be more clearly remembered as they really were
  • feeling like an orphan – all alone in the world – when both parents have died
  • facing for the first time what death really means, and the reality that one day you will die too. This can be frightening: it may also mean the start of a journey to discover “what is the meaning of life now for me?” There may also be the realisation of now being “the older generation”, no longer with a parent to consult, or someone to “be there” in tough times
  • opening up the memories of other past, painful losses, and all the hurtful feelings stored with them
  • with the death of a second parent, memories of the death of the first and suddenly all the feelings experienced then come back to make the new loss doubly hard
  • with the death of the second parent, the opportunity to find out more about personal and family history is lost too, and this may cause further distress

Whatever is felt, it is important to understand that grief is like a journey, and each person’s journey will be a very different, individual and personal experience. It is normal to experience strong feelings and it takes time to work through those feelings.

Coping With The Death Of A Parent

Some people have found some of the following strategies helpful:

  • talking to a caring friend, pastor or counselor
  • joining a bereavement support group
  • reading books on grief, especially when they are about the death of a parent
  • writing letters to your parent/parents to express your feelings or as a way of saying goodbye
  • keeping a journal as a record of your own journey of grief
  • making a ‘memory book’ of photos and mementos, lighting a candle on special occasions, planting a tree or shrub in their memory, visiting special places of significance

Remember to maintain your self-care activities at this difficult time.

Be patient, tolerant and gentle with yourself as you grieve. It is important to seek professional help when you feel overwhelmed by your grief or memories. No one has to bear it all alone. There is help available.

Other resources

AnglicareSA Suicide Support

Suicide Prevention Service: 1300 07 77 98

Living Beyond Suicide: 1300 76 11 93

Beyond Blue


Page last updated: 11 September, 2020