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When A Parent Dies

grave The death of a parent is probably one of the worst things that can happen to you as a young adult, even if you don't live together. Facing death can be sad or frightening to anyone, but as a young adult, you are already coping with physical and mental changes and this event can really complicate the already difficult picture. This is all a lot of stuff for anyone to process at once. Through all the pain, grief, and confusion, you can carry the knowledge that if you can survive this, you can survive anything.

When a parent or (grandparent) dies, it’s often hard to know what the youngest members of the family are going through. Young children -- your brother or sister -- may seem indifferent or oblivious, but they are probably going through intense and confusing emotions for which they need support.

It is very difficult to cope with death and if your parent dies suddenly or violently, it's even harder. A sudden death is more likely to affect you than if your mom or dad had a long illness which gave you time to prepare together. For the first day and night it is better to not be alone. Try to stay with the other parent, your brothers or sisters, or a close relative, or friends.

It is not uncommon for teens to confide or find help for their grief outside the home, let your other parent know this is not a reflection of the m.

cemetery You may find some adults avoiding the death issue. Adult family members may consider "your ability" to inhibit tears as "a sign of maturity" or "good adjustment". It IS NOT! By avoiding the death issue yourself and by teaching denial, both you and that person are messing up their and your ability to cope effectively with death. A common way in which the mourning process is prevented from taking its natural course is by the suppression (conscious) or repression (unconscious) of his or her grief. Normal adult grief is characterized by distress, impairment of functioning, and a predictable clinical course. Teenage grief that is not allowed to be expressed may cause deep frustration over the loss and anger. That anger may be revealed in nightmares, or projected onto others, or even cause depression. (Anger turned inward = depression).

How You Will Feel

shock It's normal to have lots of different feelings after the death of someone very close to you. At first you may feel shock, then denial (you can't accept that it's happened), then anger, and finally sadness and depression. You may feel so sad that you just want to withdraw from the world, not wanting to see or speak to anyone, or do anything. You may not want to go out of the house, or to school; you may just want to be alone with your thoughts and memories of the deceased parent. Some young people will feel isolated because they think friends shun them or are embarrassed and don't know what to say. This is often the case.

How Your Friends May React

Don't be surprised if your friends find it hard to deal with the death of your parent. They may not know how to talk to you about the subject and so they feel embarrassed to bring it up, thinking it will upset you and you will start crying, and then they won't know what to do.

Your close friends know better, but you can also do a lot to put them at ease. You'll feel a lot more comfortable if you clear the air by saying something like, "You know my mother died, it's okay, we don't have to talk about it." Friends might seem to feel sorry for you, and this may annoy you. No one likes to be pitied and no one wants their friends to have to be protective of them. If you find that someone tries to be overprotective or over-comforting, be honest and ask them to stop.

What You Can Do

It is very okay to cry, actually crying can help a lot. Sometimes crying together with your mom or dad or brother or sister can be good for both of you. Some teenagers try to protect their remaining parent by keeping quiet about their own feelings. Don't wait for permission to express what you think and feel. It is okay to talk about your dead parent with anyone you want.

Keeping a diary or journal can be very comforting. Your journal can be a lot like a friend who will listen and not say a word. It is often a huge relief to get thoughts out of your mind and once they are down on paper or in your computer, it is as though you have dealt with them. Some psychologist even recommend writing letters to your deceased parent in your journal as a way of feeling connected to them.

Ask your remaining parent or get something from your deceased parent that you can keep which will have meaning to you. Then you always have something from them with you. It is normal to want to look through your dead parent's belongings or room or desk. It is also normal to avoid them at first too. In time you will find what is right for you to do.

musicFor some teenagers getting involved in the funeral or memorial service arrangements can be comforting. By choosing music and readings or a cemetery or a place for their ashes if they were cremated, you are given some control over what is going on around you. It is also a final thing you can do for your parent. You decide what you think you can handle.

National Statistics

In the United States, approximately 1 in 20 children experience the loss of a parent before they reach the age of 18 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990). Although most bereaved children do not show serious emotional/behavioral disturbances, children who lose a loved one are at a greater risk for symptoms of depression, withdrawal, anxiety, conduct problems, and lower self-esteem. This is why it is so important for you to express your feelings to someone. That person can be a parent, counselor, clergy person, therapist or close relative.

New Worries

worrying When one of your parents dies, you may find that all sorts of things start to worry you that didn't before. You may fear that your other parent will die too. If you have younger brothers or sisters, you may have new responsibilities now and more work to do at home. You may need to help out more with chores, cooking, errands, or even get a part time job. In a way, this may help your grief, helping others can be healing too. You may worry about much smaller things too. Don't let small problems overcrowd your mind. Concentrate on one at a time. Deal with the most serious ones first, and then sometimes the smaller ones just take care of themselves.

No one should tell you that you will be taking the place of the parent who has died. If they do, tell them to stop. It is natural for the remaining members of the family to regroup and some sharing of responsibilities needs to take place in the household, but all that instant responsibility is not your to take on.

Grief has various patterns and may continue on and off for many years, though the intensity may get less. Your surviving parent hopefully will know when you are coming to terms with the death when they show they are accepting the reality of the death themselves. They will be reorganizing life to cope without the dead parent; returning to their normal round of activities and relationships. You need good, realistic memories on which to build your future. It sometimes takes a number of years for a teenager to work through the emotional grieving.

If you feel you are not able to cope with grief and with the problems reflecting that grief, then please seek professional help.

Check out this helpful transcript... Coping With The Death of a Parent or visit the Mental Health Section.

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