A parent passing away at any age can be one of the most significant losses that an individual will encounter. It can be accompanied by a longing for more time, experiences and connection with your parent. Acknowledging and understanding that parents will most likely pass away before their children does not diminish or prepare families for the sense of loss felt at the time of death.

Here are some suggestions for coping with the loss of a parent

Recognize the scope of your loss. Coping with the loss of a parent means learning to live without a person you have known for your whole life who may have played a formative role in your growth and development. Parents have shared in important moments in your life and have been invested in your well-being.

Allow yourself to grieve. After the loss of a parent you may feel angry, upset, numb, depressed and anxious, all of which can be intense and unfamiliar. All of these feelings are appropriate given the scale of the loss. Grief is a uniquely individual experience and different people, even within the same family, will process loss and express emotion in different ways at different times.

Give yourself time. Understand that there are no fixed timelines for the grief process and that patience is important. Acknowledge and embrace emotion without feeling that you need to “get over” your feelings or move on. When it feels comfortable to do so, find the time to reflect on the past and hold onto memories.

Pay attention to your health. Feelings may be magnified on birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other holidays. Think about how you want to honor your parent on these days. Create new rituals or support old traditions with family members and/or friends, and mark or observe the day in ways that can bring comfort to you.

Plan for special days when you may need more support. Feelings may be magnified on birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other holidays. Think about how you want to honor your parent on these days. Create new rituals or support old traditions with family members and/or friends, and mark or observe the day in ways that can bring comfort to you.

Seek extra support. Consider professional support from a grief counselor or oncology social worker to help strengthen existing coping mechanisms and establish additional strategies for understanding and navigating your grief. Look into support groups, which allow you to connect with other people who are coping with the loss of a parent. CancerCare offers free individual counseling and support groups to people who have lost a loved one to cancer. Call 800‑813‑HOPE (4673) and speak to an oncology social worker to learn more about CancerCare’s free services.

Hold on to your memories and begin a new legacy. Though death separates you from a parent physically, your emotional connection continues to exist and grow through memory. Think about your parent’s strengths and the impact that they had on your life and the lives of others. You may wish to honor your parent’s memory by volunteering for cancer organizations or involving yourself in a cause that your parent felt passionately about. Consider creative outlets and keep memories present through mindfulness, writing, drawing, collaging or creating slideshows. Commemorating and honoring your parent—through activities or projects of any size—can help you cope with the grieving process and heal.

Edited by A.J. Cincotta-Eichenfield, MSW, LMSW

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This activity is supported by AbbVie.

Last updated June 04, 2019

The information presented in this publication is provided for your general information only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are aware of your specific situation. We encourage you to take information and questions back to your individual health care provider as a way of creating a dialogue and partnership about your cancer and your treatment.

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