The Death of a Parent: Healing Children’s GriefSeptember 3, 2009 • By Beth Patterson, MA, LPC
The death of a parent is the most elemental loss that a child can experience. Many in our culture believe that children cannot understand death and lack the capacity to grieve. Because of this misconception, coupled with confusion and anxiety in communicating with children about death, children are often told that the dead parent has simply “gone away.” Shielding children from death deprives them of the ability to grieve and ultimately heal.
The age and stage of development of a child at the time of his or her parent’s death will strongly influence the ways in which the child reacts and adapts to the loss. An understanding of the child’s emotional and cognitive development can enable caregivers and professionals to determine how best to communicate about death with the particular child, to understand and empathize with the child’s experience and guide the child through the grieving and healing process.
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The Interdependence of Grief and Development
Childhood grief and development are interdependent: the early death of a parent affects a child’s development, and the child’s development affects how he or she will grieve and reconstruct his or her relationship with the deceased parent. Furthermore, children re-experience their grief as they reach each milestone in their development. The deceased parent is a “missing piece” (quoting the poem by Shel Silverstein) that the child needs to reconstruct in order to provide himself with a “history of his past that he could then build on, alter and modify with changing developmental concerns….During each succeeding developmental stage, he may need to step back and…reconstitute the missing piece” (Garber, 1988, p. 272).
Capacity to Grieve and Understand Death’s Finality
There has been much controversy concerning when children develop the capacity to grieve and understand the finality of death. Some believe that a child cannot truly grieve until adolescence, when he or she has become “fully differentiated” and has achieved the cognitive level of formal operational thinking. In contrast John Bowlby, in his studies of attachment, believed that infants as young as six months experience grief reactions similar to those of adults. Some theorists believe that the capacity to grieve begins at the cognitive stage of object permanence, around the age of one and one-half to two, while others believe that this capacity begins at approximately three years old, when the child has reached the psychological stage of object constancy, i.e., “a coherent mental representation of important attachment figures.” (Worden, 1996, pp. 9-10, citing Bowlby (1963, 1980) and R. Furman (1964)).
A child’s ability to understand the meaning and finality of death corresponds to his or her cognitive development. A three to five year old, in the preoperational stage, believes that the deceased person has gone away and will return at some point. Thus, it is common for a child of this age to constantly ask questions such as “Where’s Daddy?” and “When is Mommy coming home?” A child of five to approximately nine years of age, in the concrete operational stage of cognitive development believes that death can be avoided. Furthermore, a child in this egocentric phase also believes that his or her parent died because either the parent was bad or the child was bad, and that if the child is good, the parent can return. This is thus seen as one of the most vulnerable and difficult developmental stages for adjusting to a parent’s death. The child at this stage needs someone who can clarify what the child is thinking and feeling, can reframe events to make them more understandable, can reassure and build self-esteem by praising the child’s accomplishments and by emphasizing the child’s importance. Research has found that children over the age of nine generally have a realistic understanding of the inevitability and finality of death. However, although children over nine years of age understand death’s finality, their reactions to a parent’s death is determined by their cognitive and emotional level of development and other factors such as gender and the relationship with the surviving parent.
Tasks of Children’s Mourning
The noted grief counselor and expert J. William Worden has identified four tasks of mourning: (1) accepting the reality of the loss, (2) experiencing the pain and emotional aspects of the loss, (3) adjusting to an environment without the deceased, and (4) relocating the dead person in one’s life. The satisfactory completion of these tasks depends on both the child’s stage of development at the time of the death and his or her adaptability and ability to attend to any unfinished tasks at later stages of development.
Accepting the Reality of the Loss
A child can accept the reality of losing a parent when he or she understands, through the achievement of operational thinking, “the nature of abstractions such as finality and irreversibility” (Worden, 1996, p 13, citing Piaget, 1954). Some grasp of such abstractions is possible during the concrete operational stage of cognitive development, and is only fully understood at the formal operational stage. Thus, if a parent dies before formal operational cognition has been achieved, the child will experience a deeper level of grief when he or she attains that cognitive stage and fully and deeply comprehends the finality and irreversibility of the loss. This usually occurs in early adolescence, another particularly vulnerable time in the process of adjusting to a parent’s death and in overall development. Christ (2000, pp. 190-91) calls the adolescent’s profound experience of his or her loss due to the attainment of formal operational thinking, coupled with adolescent developmental tasks such as separating from family, negotiating a more adult relationship with the surviving parent, finding one’s identity and true values and deepening relationships with peers “daunting challenges for adolescents that often exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities.”
Experiencing the Pain and Emotional Aspects of the Loss
The pain and emotion involved with death, generally called the mourning process, can be frightening for a child both to experience and to witness in others. Awareness of the child’s capacity based on his or her stage of emotional development to cope with strong emotions is important. For example, as noted above, children of approximately five to seven years of age are very vulnerable. They can understand death’s permanence on some level, but lack the ego strength and socialization to deal with the intensity of the loss. It is therefore important for the surviving parent and others in the child’s life to model and express their grief without overwhelm, so that the child can be less afraid of his or her own feelings. The egocentric magical thinking of children at this age compounds that vulnerability when they believe that they were somehow the cause of the death and that they can do something about it. It is therefore important for grief therapists and the child’s caregivers to assure children at this vulnerable stage that they were not the cause of their loved one’s death.
Adjusting to an Environment without the Deceased Parent
This task is an ongoing process through progressive stages of development as well as important transitions throughout one’s lifetime. The child– as well as the adult he or she will become — re-experiences his or her grief at each stage of development as a result of his or her growing cognitive abilities, and also as he or she comprehends the vacuum left by the dead parent, who is not there to nurture and support the child’s growth and achievements. In addition, the child’s grief will be experienced, and the loss of the parent acutely felt, at times of life transitions such as birthdays, graduation, leaving home, marrying and having a child of one’s own. It is thus important that parents, caregivers and therapists not minimize the reoccurrence of grief, but to support the child or adult through this new stage of adjusting to life without the parent.
Relocating the Dead Parent in One’s Life
As the child grows and changes, his or her relationship with the deceased parent also changes. Thus, according to Worden (1996), another ongoing task is to find new ways to memorialize the parent with the attainment of each developmental milestone: The loss of a parent in a child’s infancy, especially if that parent was the primary caregiver, will inevitably lead to difficulties in attachment and trust, and consequent feelings of anger or depression as the child grows and is unable to attach or become intimate with others. In order for such an individual to successfully relocate and internalize the deceased parent, as well as complete Worden’s other tasks, he or she will need to transfer the process to other figures, such as a trusted teacher or therapist, in order to reconstruct his or her parental loss and the deceased parent’s place in his or her life, and it is the job of the grief therapist and others in the child’s life to support and facilitate that process.
The Many Faces of A Child’s Grief
Grief is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Many factors affect a child’s grief process and adjustment to life without the dead parent. Factors affecting the child’s grief and bereavement process include the gender of the child and deceased parent, the child’s relationship with the surviving parent, the effect of the death on the surviving parent, the preparation and information regarding the death accorded to the child and the family’s strengths and resources. An understanding of these factors and of the child’s emotional and cognitive development is crucial for a therapist or caregiver to support the child’s completion of the tasks of mourning and enable him or her to internalize the “missing piece” through grieving and healing.
Baker, J.E. & Sedney, M.A. (1966). How Bereaved Children Cope with Loss: An Overview. In Corr, C. & Corr (Eds.), Handbook of Childhood Death and Bereavement. New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Christ, G.H. (2000). Healing Children’s Grief: Surviving a Parent’s Death from Cancer. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fogarty, J. (2000). The Magical Thoughts of Grieving Children: Treating Children with Complicated Mourning and Advice for Parents. Amityville, New York: Baywood Publishing Company.
Garber, B. (1966). Construction and Reconstruction in a Case of Parent Loss. In Altschul, S. (Ed.) Childhood Bereavement and its Aftermath. Madison, Ct.: International Universities Press.
Worden, W. (1996). Children and Grief: When a Parent Dies. New York: Guildford Press.
© Copyright 2009 by Beth Patterson, MA, LPC, therapist in Denver, CO. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author name above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
MickieSeptember 3rd, 2009 at 6:11 PM
It is very sad to see any child losing a parent early in life… It can break a child’s heart to the extent that he/she is not interested in anything at all. This needs to be taken care of by the surviving parent or any known person, or a counselor… A child who has lost his/her parent should never be let alone, someone should be there to hold his hand at all times, guiding him through every situation where his deceased parent was required to be with him.
Francis W.September 3rd, 2009 at 9:59 PM
My friend’s mother died of cancer when she was only ten and she has never got over it. She says she never will. Every milestone in her life has been tough because her mother wasn’t there to celebrate it with her. The hardest was when she had her children. We’ve been friends since childhood and I’ve seen this for thirty years. It’s heartbreaking.
GeorgeSeptember 4th, 2009 at 11:47 AM
hi,i totally agree with mickie its really very heart breakin for children to loose there parents at an early age.I lost my grandfather when my mother was still in her teens it wwas really crictal for my mother to cope with the situation.If my aunt would not hav monitored my mother would not have come out of it inn the right time.
CaraSeptember 5th, 2009 at 8:37 AM
I lost my dad when I was five and I have to say that even now i am still grieving for what might have been because I never knew how to deal with all of that as a child.
Beth Patterson, MA, LPCSeptember 5th, 2009 at 8:24 PM
Thank you all for sharing your personal stories of loss. I hope that you continue to grow on your journey. The guidance and partnership of a trained grief counselor can be invaluable to help transform grief and loss into healing and growth.
Joanne Koegl, M.A., LMFTSeptember 11th, 2009 at 1:38 PM
Beth Patterson’s article on loss was of great interest to me since I have ran many grief groups and individual therapy. I was happy to see her write about Worden’s tasks since I always turned to his theory and tasks since he does take into consideration the developmental stages which is a huge factor on how one grieves and heals. Grieving is as unique as every individual is unique and although I use Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief in my work, I find that Worden’s tasks gives one a much more understanding into the affects of a loss of a parent at a particular age and how it affects the person throughout life.
PatriciaNovember 15th, 2009 at 7:07 PM
At 52, I am still struggling with the loss of my 18 yo sister when I was 2 followed by the loss of my Father when I was 9.
When my father died, I was alone with him in the house and I went into some kind of psychological shock. I was in the house for hours before my mother got home from work.
Nothing was ever done about these traumas and they became almost a taboo topic growing up b/c my mother was so fragile.
I am only now coming to understand through my own reading that I probably experienced Traumatic Grief. I think that the trauma symptoms arose every time I began to feel grief and I backed away from them leaving me with “frozen grief”. I have never even cried about my father’s loss, yet I am haunted by it.
Everyone, including every therapist I’ve ever seen just seems to want to “brush” right past this and address my current issues (which are many). My own reluctance to address this doesn’t help, b/c I begin to go into a panic attack when I feel that I’m close to talking about it, so in the moment, I’m just as happy to let it go.
Long term, I feel some resentment that “here’s just one more person” who won’t help me “go there”. Everyone seems to agree that the “past is the past” and I understand that, but part of me is still standing in that bedroom reaching out to find that my sleeping father is ice cold.
Beth Patterson, MA, LPCNovember 17th, 2009 at 5:09 PM
Dear Patricia: I am so sorry that you have not connected with the support needed to heal your grief. It is unfortunate that the therapists you’ve worked with are unable to sit with and work with the grief you are continuing to experience. I agree that you have likely experienced traumatic grief. I would be happy to talk with you.
Beth Patterson, MA, LPC
Jamie CarterNovember 16th, 2010 at 9:10 AM
I have three children. But my two oldest children are from a marriage that ended in leaving them fatherless and me a widow at the age of 24. My daughters were only six years old and eight years old. I was always told kids were very resiliant to things like that. Now my kids are 14 and 12 and I’m thinking they may still need some counseling. I have found it really hard to help them with their grieving when I still have problems grieving also. I kmow they need help but I cant find the help they need. You can’t get government help because social security pays too much and social security doesnt offeeer any help with counseling. I’m very lost and confused. If anyone can offer any help I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you so much.. Jamie
Betty L. WillardDecember 27th, 2010 at 9:42 PM
I lost my father after a semi-long illness when I was 7. Have never gotten over it, though I’m 63. He was closest to me; I was an only child; I don’t remember any comforting by mom or anybody. Other family members died shortly before & shortly after (notably my father’s father, 3 months after him; and my cousin, age 4, in 1949 when I was 2). To me the world is a TERRIBLY unsafe place. I’ve been in counseling for over 25 years; am better; can cope; but do not know what happiness is.
Betty L. WillardDecember 27th, 2010 at 9:44 PM
CORRECTION: It was my father’s MOTHER who died 3 months after he did.
jenniferJanuary 31st, 2012 at 8:02 AM
hey i am an aunt of two neices and one nephew they are brother and sisters my sister and her husband died together in a car accident ten years ago so that leave three kids behind 3,5 ,and 7 years old my mom adopted them through social services so they went to lives with her after their parent death and believe me these kid it is killing them every single day that their parent is gone and not nothing can ever make them happy my mom done every single thing she could think of to make them happy but nothing would work all they ever wanted to do was to be unhappy and make us unhappy too what they didn’t understand that we was grieving too and it was a tradegy losing our love one suddenly but i know that i sound selfish saying that it affect us too because it is different to them because they was their parent but sometime i put myself in their place and realize that yes i will be completly lost without my parent i know that it not so great living with a grandparent it different i too live with my grandma when my mom got married at 12 yrs old and believe me it not so easy so yes i pray for my neices and nephew every day that they will someday find peace and understand that how life is you have to accept what god has given you and they will need to learn that we are here for them and that we are familes sometime i get confused of how can it affect a three and a five years old child losing their parent but really don’t let nobody prove you wrong because it does.
GarethJuly 12th, 2012 at 4:01 AM
I was 3 years old when my father died. We were relocating from Dublin to the West of Ireland when it happened. A piece of metal flew off a passing lorry and went through the windscreen of our car, hitting my Dad on the head. My Mum managed to reach over and hit the brake bringing us to a halt. My brother and I cried. Our Dad was slumped in his seat.
He wasn’t killed instantly, but never regained consciousness and died of a brain haemorrhage a day later.
I have never had to be reminded about what happened that day. I can remember everything. However, I never remember grieving. One minute he was there, the next he was gone. I always spoke about him openly with my Mum and from an early age I idolised everything about him. I also became very attached to my Mum.
When I was 21, I fell in love during a gap year in Australia. I had never felt such intense feelings before and I was completely overwhelmed by the experience. I had never cared so deeply for someone and I wanted to protect her and stay with her forever.
Then one day in work, I suddenly became desperately sad. I had no idea why but when I thought of my girlfriend it became more intense. It became so bad that I could not concentrate in work and shortly after I decided to quit my job. My girlfriend became very worried about me.
When I was around my girlfriend I had an overwhelming sense of guilt, sadness and anxiety. I began to feel that I must not love her enough and therefore had to end the relationship. This made me even more sad. I had never been in love before and did not have anything to use as a benchmark so I began to question whether I was in love. All of this took place behind an ever thickening haze of depression.
Depression is an evil manipulative beast. It makes you look at everything with an element of negativity. A previously happy life is suddenly viewed as one littered with failures and shortcomings. A future is seen as one devoid of any hope. But perhaps most damaging of all, it wreaks havoc on emotional functioning. I desperately wanted to feel love for my girlfriend but I couldn’t… When I think back to those times, all I can remember is feeling like I couldn’t feel at all; apart from the feeling of an overwhelming unexplained sense of grief and loss.
I ended the relationship soon after and I returned broken hearted to Ireland. I then relocated to Scotland to begin a 5 year course in architecture. The move and all that went with it was certainly a distraction for my sadness, and after a time I began to think that maybe the reason I was so sad was because the relationship in Sydney was just not right. It was a relief not to think about it anymore and over time I began to feel more hopeful about the future. My sex drive returned with vengeance, and after a string of emotionally void flings I met a girl who seemed to conjure up everything I considered to be perfection. Not long into the relationship, I told her that I loved her and almost as if on cue, my depression returned.
My Mum decided to seek professional help and I began to attend regular consultations with a psychologist. It was with this psychologist that I gradually began to understand my obvious difficulties with forming intimate relationships were as a result of the death of my father at such a young age. I understood that a 3 year old when dealing with desperately sad situations can lock this sadness up as a way of self preservation. This sadness can lie dormant for many years and can resurface at some point with certain triggers depending on the person. My trigger was intimate relationships. When I fell in love, I became depressed because I had been hard wired to associate love, protection and security with deep loss and sadness.
I will always have difficulties in forming intimate relationships. However, understanding behaviour traits when faced with life changing events is the key to finding happiness. The experiences one has in life bad and good colour personality, character and outlook.
As difficult as this journey has been for me, I know I am at peace having finally come to terms with the loss of my Dad. In an obscure way, it makes me realise he will always be with me and will always be loved. For where there is love, there will always be loss.
ShellyOctober 17th, 2012 at 11:39 PM
I was 16 when I lost my father to lung cancer. It hit me rather hard. It sunk me into a depression. A depression where I quit all my sports and started struggling in school. I had to watch my little brother and my mother cope with the lost of my father. Two years after my father passed my mother passed away as well on Christmas Eve. I held it all in and I’m 25 now and its hitting me harder now more than ever. I was left the responsible to take care of my brother and when he was 16 he was diagnosed with cancer as well. He is in remission. I worry for him everyday. I have held everything in to be the stronger sibling and it all took a toll on me. I always want to turn to my parents for advice but then I remember that their not there. It’s hard to celebrate the holidays without them. But I always tell myself that I have to stay strong for myself and for my brother. Thy we aren’t alone in this world.
DennettaNovember 16th, 2012 at 7:33 AM
At this time my mother is in ICU, they are waiting for my father, siblings and I to all come together for them to take her off the machine. This is so very hard to do. Last night my oldest neice and I spent the night at the hospital. We grew up as sisters, due to my oldest sister her mother passing away at 36 years of age, at the time we were 14 and 10, as well as she left behind a 15 year old autistic son, 4 year daughter, and a 4 day old son. We are all currently 38, 39, 34, 29, 24.My mother finished raising us all, with my father being there as well. I also lost my older brother to cancer in 2010. So this is one area that feels like a very bad dream. But, Please know that GOD is always here.
DennettaNovember 16th, 2012 at 7:34 AM
Thank you! This is something we that are in this process need. There is help to pull the pieces of our broken hearts back together.
saraNovember 20th, 2012 at 2:08 PM
I too lost my father at the age of 9. I witnessed his death.
I remember feeling a profound sense of isolation from my peers as it seemed as though no one else had experienced anything like it and no other children wanted to talk about it with me.
I found group counseling to be immensely helpful. My mother forced me to go when I was 13 (even though I thought I was “fine” and I thought it was ridiculous to do something like that so long after his death) and I realized a few years later that while I wasn’t totally aware of it at the time, it helped me to feel less isolated and feel less victimized by the world. I began to see that other kids had experienced similar things and they were able to get through it and succeed.
Group grief counseling was necessary for me. Without it, I would have continued to feel like a victim…like the world owed me something due to this unique tragedy.
I suggest that if your child has experienced a tragedy like this, that you look for support from your child’s school, local hospice and the like.
Free counseling IS available and your child, no matter how profoundly traumatized, is not the only child going through something like that-they NEED to know it.
TJJanuary 7th, 2013 at 10:31 AM
I lost my father at 9 years old. I didn’t really know he was sick, but one morning my mother told me that he had died. It was a great shock. I used to be an out going child, had lots of friends and always remember the fun days I had. At 37 I’m totally the opposite, have no friends, can’t speak in groups of people- I’m always the quiet one. The months following my father’s death were hard. I felt a spooky presence in the lounge, I had to run out of the house to escape it. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I kept going to my mum’s room to tell her I couldn’t sleep. She responded violently towards me, once she threatened to cane me until I bled. Then after those months we moved in with my grandmother, still I couldn’t sleep but this time my mother was always out dating my to be step father. So I would go and tell my grand mother I couldn’t sleep- she threatened to cane me too. Over the years of growing up I developed sexual interests that aren’t healthy. Now I’m married I have lots of sexual problems when I’m with my wife. I’ve figured out when a child looses a parent they need all the love care and attention the surviving parent can give , and never be abusive or violent as this just grows badness inside that child. I so wish I could fix all my problems, I feel so helpless at times. I have a sex therapist but it’s not helping. All I can say us that loosing a parent can seriously damage a child, their brains get wired up differently, and they have to live with it.
Ferzana KusairJanuary 14th, 2013 at 12:49 PM
I have never actually been on this kind of website, i am 38 and was 31 when I lost my mother, my father died suddenly last february and its been 3 weeks since my sister died. I have been very strong too no matter how old you are grief catches up with you. i feel your loss Shelly and can understand your grief. I havnt been able to cry for my losses as have had to look after my siblings and deal with things, i am use to hiding my feelings but now it is atually affecting me. Shelly if you want to get in touch maybe we can share our stories. Your not alone.
fishJanuary 13th, 2014 at 11:05 PM
We have just taken in a friend of my daughters. He iS 16 and has been living with random friends since his mother died in 09. His father has had nothing to do with him isince the death of his mom. My daughter had been teling me for months he iS droped off at our city park after school till he finds a pace to crash for the night the back to school and the cycle would start all over. When my husband and I picked him up he had only the clothes on his back. Our lawyers where able to get us guardianship of him thank goodness. He won’t talk about the death of his mom he iS still very angry over the loss. This concerns me because I feel he needs to speak to someone. He has told me many times that he was 12 when she passed away and tried to talk about it, but family members would either tell him to move on or be quiet it was too upsetting. Because of that he says he does his best to push it out of his mind. Hollidays are so hard for him, however this was the best time since his mom died he had selabrated it.
RossJanuary 21st, 2014 at 12:38 PM
Starting at age 2, I remember vaguely the phone calls my dad made to me when he was away. I remember feeling alone and wanting my mom and dad to come back. I would ask about them frequently and just told they would be back soon. Moving forward just a little I remember being at my dad’s funeral, I remember seeing him lying there in the casket, I remember asking about him and being told he is sleeping. I accepted that answer but did not understand all that was going on and being confused about the whole situation. Grandma was very sad…and angry. She would lose her temper with me often, and did not really show any true love or affection…after that we would visit my dad’s grave every one of his birthdays and Memorial Day. Moving forward to 8 years old I was spending the night at my great-grandparents house, who I stayed with often for a large portion of my early life as my grandmother was still working at the time and my mother had moved away with a new boyfriend to Indiana. I remember it being late in the night, after we had all been asleep for a while the phone rang, I would sleep in the same room as them in a cot when I would stay there and so we were all woken up, I remember them looking very concerned and talking on the phone for a long time before finally talking with me, my grandmother came over to their house during this time and eventually they just told me my mother had passed away. I was confused, I did not understand and did not talk about it, I acted like everything was the same and buried all of this for many years. Moving forward to 12 years old, I was again at my great grandparents’ house, my great grandma became ill, I remember the ambulance being called to the house that night and traveling to the hospital a while later after my grandmother had come to pick me up, we went to visit her and I yet again did not know what was going on, the next day we went to visit her and she died that night. I was very sad, but held it all in, I couldn’t show emotion, I couldn’t be weak when everyone else was crying, I just couldn’t and I suppressed it all again. We went to her funeral, this caused much more pain and sadness and anger from my grandmother, she got worse and our relationship what little we had grown more strained. My great grandfather moved into our house a few months after his wife passed away, he was suffering from cancer that was being treated with radiation but he did not want chemo and operation was too risky. His and my grandmother’s relationship was strained as well while he lived with us. After living with us for just under a year he passed away as well, I remember the night well, he and I had on and off argued about stupid stuff and I remember going to bed angry because of our argument, I did not tell him I loved him that night, he passed away in the night. I never got to say goodbye. I remember waking up that morning to my grandmother crying, it was a school day but I stayed home as she called the people to come take him. Later we went to his funeral. My great-grandparents where the single most influential people I had in my entire life growing up before moving out, I was very close to them and spent a lot of my time with them for my whole life up until they passed away…I never got to say goodbye to anyone, I never got to mourn or grieve. My grandmother after all of this loss and raising me became bitter, resentful, angry and unemotional otherwise, she mistreated me emotionally and mentally. She lied to me about how my parents passed away, and blamed my mother’s side of the family for everything, she controlled my life and every aspect she could including total isolation from any of that side of the family. Only recently in the last 4 years did I find out how they truly died. My dad passed away on May 1st 1989 his 31st birthday from a heroin overdose, which as I am finding out more may or may not have been his own doing, there are stories that my mother may have done it to him to get away. She then passed away 6 years later, after being beaten into a coma by her new boyfriend she was living with in Indiana. He was never brought to justice as there was never any proof but everyone knew what had happened. I am 26 years old and only at 22 did I find out these horrible truths. I have buried these memories and pain most of my life but cannot do so anymore. Because of everything I am an angry person with attachment disorder, mistrust, detached, jaded, and pessimistic. I feel alone, isolated, like no one can understand or truly care. Such a deep void filled only with depression and an immeasurable sadness dwells and eats away at me from inside. I hide it as best I can, fake smiles, attempts at being cheerful and social, but it isn’t real. When I let it go it all comes bursting out, I scream silently, cry and shake, hit myself and objects and just can’t stop. When that is over I feel dead inside, emotionless, cold, distant and in a fog. Day to day is a struggle, I go to work, eat and do things when I am supposed to but feel as though I am just drifting through life with no real purpose or reason, no meaning. I have tried a battery of anti-depressants and “mood stabilizers” to no avail, they have just seemed to cause more problems than they fix.
admin2January 23rd, 2014 at 9:31 AM
Thank you for sharing your experiences with the GoodTherapy.org community. We want to make sure you have the resources you need during the depression and sadness you described. If you’re ever in a crisis situation, feeling suicidal, or concerned for your own safety, you can do one of the following immediately:
Call your local law enforcement agency (911);
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Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY:1-800-799-4TTY)
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ErikaFebruary 21st, 2014 at 12:23 PM
Is it possible that the bereavement of a parent at an early age, say twelve, would stunt or stagnate the child’s emotional growth? I mean in a way that affects the child as an adult later in life? Someone close to me was in this situation and I find it feels sometimes like in my arguments with this person, I am arguing with a twelve year old, just the person’s reasoning and hangups, as well as emotional swings are all over the place like those of an immature child. Any help you can give is appreciated.
Beth PattersonFebruary 21st, 2014 at 3:01 PM
Erika — I would say this is definitely possible. When we are scarred at a particular time in life, we can get “stuck” there. You might want to point out your observation in a caring, compassionate and non-judgmental way. This person would benefit from some therapy to resolve these grief issues.
AmeeMarch 16th, 2014 at 2:54 PM
My son is 5 and his father passed away on mother’s day of last year. I recently found a therapist & I hope it benefits him. He was ok at first but now I think he realizes his dad isn’t coming back he won’t go into the room with pics or with his dads things. When I leave for work he tells me I’m not coming back. It breaks my heart & I hope I’m going in the right direction.
Beth PattersonMarch 17th, 2014 at 6:02 AM
I am so sorry for your and your son’s loss. I am glad you found a therapist for your son, and I hope it is someone who has experience in grief and kids. There are also groups for grieving children in many areas. The best thing for you to do is assure your son that he is safe. It sounds like his grief is more intense as he now realizes the permanence of death. It is god that he is able to express how he feels. Peace to you.
Connie AMay 14th, 2014 at 9:40 PM
Do you know of any organization in the US that takes children on vacations/trips who have lost a parent(s)? I am doing research for such an organization in Australia who would like to branch out.
Keondra WMay 19th, 2014 at 8:15 PM
I lost my dad today, it hurts so bad.
Deniz D.June 17th, 2014 at 1:16 PM
I lost my dad (and 4 other family members) at the age of 8 during an earthquake in 1999 (Turkey). I never got the chance to say goodbye. I was left alone .. by my mother who also experience trauma because she lost her partner. But she’s all over it now. I’m 23 and still feel numb. It’s like my emotions disappeared, I can’t feel pain, nor happiness. Joy of life isn’t there anymore. Nowadays it’s easier… back when I was a kid it was like living in hell, everyday waking up thinking it was all just a bad dream, a nightmare. I did drugs to cope with the feelings I had because I never understood what I felt, I still don’t. My mom was always working so we never had a ”family” (in quotes because 1 piece is missing, the father figure) chit chat about the unfortunate event that took place, which changed our lives forever. It made me stronger as a human-being… but I lack joy. I used to love listening to birds chirping outside, feeling the wind between my hair. I just don’t care for anything anymore. It feels like I’m waiting for the day I’ll die. I’m not a depressed maniac though, LOL. Don’t worry I’m fine… is what I always tell myself. Maybe that’s what keeps me going.
DestynieJuly 25th, 2014 at 7:50 PM
Please help me!!! If you have read my other comments please answer back! I can’t share what I’m feeling with my uncle he won’t understand he’s not my mothers child I am! He could never understand losing his mom young because he is 37 and his mom is still alive! Please if you have experience this loss help me get through this please!!!!
GinaAugust 16th, 2014 at 9:52 PM
I know how you feel. I lost my dad May 27. I’m only 16, it’s horrible. But you have to stay strong for the rest do your family. It’s going to hurt a lot but your family needs you more than ever and a lot of things will change at home, people will be more moody and won’t be able to deal with things as easy but you need patients and you need time to heal. Time is the only thing that will help. Either that or music to me. Almost every night I listen to music and cry. I feel better afterwards. Have friends there to keep you company too. Try and get through it. Don’t try hurting yourself cause that will make things worse trust me. I tried starving myself and it didn’t help at all and I know for a face that any other way to hurt yourself won’t help either. Please stay strong.
ZerrinbAugust 31st, 2014 at 12:54 PM
I’m so sorry for your loss. It struck me that the date of your post was so close to the date that my dad passed away, at the end of this past June also unexpectedly. I’m so sorry for your family loss & the hardship grieving, it is so tough afterward to go on without them- I do know that. My father is Turkish too, and I’m hoping in time things get easier for both of us. Best wishes on your journey to healing,
HeidiOctober 3rd, 2014 at 7:17 PM
I need your help. Two years ago my daughter lost her mother and she has been starving herself ever since. She was only nine when Nancy died. I have taken her to therapy, we are doing family therapy and over the summer she did a partial hospitalization program. Nothing is helping and the therapists are suggesting she go to an intensive inpatient program for kids with eating disorders. What changed things for you? What made you stop hurting yourself? I worry if I put her into a hospital program it will exacerbate her feelings of abandonment. She worries so much about also losing me. I hope you can give me some insight to help my daughter. I am sorry for your loss and it is so good of you to reach out to help others.
Nick M.October 6th, 2014 at 10:37 AM
Hi my name is nick and I have been dealing with depression for a long time now. When I was 15 , the closest person in the world passed away. My father. Everyone tried to get me in counsling including my mom and I didn’t want to at the time. But as time went on I got more and more anxiety and depressed.. I’m looking for a good counslor. I live in edwardsville IL 62025. If anyone can help. Please… I am now 24 years old and I feel like it is just getting worse for me… Thank you
October 6th, 2014 at
Hi Nick. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html
Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.
NancyOctober 10th, 2014 at 2:36 AM
My best friend has not been well. We were all concerned about her, and then her husband of only 41 passed away a week ago due to a sudden heart attack. He left behind two boys – age 9 and 11. They are currently a mess. My heart is so broken for all of them. Though the community is reaching out, I’m trying to find help for them and wondering what you recommend. They are in Eastern Canada.
Beth PattersonOctober 10th, 2014 at 9:01 AM
Dear Nancy — Thank you for being such a caring friend. Many cities have support groups for parents and their children. If there is a local hospice in your area, they may be able to provide resources as well.
tookAcoupleLossesOctober 10th, 2014 at 12:46 PM
First off I want to say sorry for everyone’s loss. It’s crazy how we don’t really give children the right to grieve properly. I lost my mom at age 5. It wasn’t just me tho I have a twin sister and a older sister. All 3 of us have anger issues and my grandmother attributes that to my mother lol. I feel it’s because we all never had the chance to grieve properly. My grandma had 5 children 3 dead 2 living. Her life was hard and she never let me down and I love her for that. I remember waking up and my mom not being there me and my sister were home alone are home alone. Over the next hours a lot of cars began to pull up at the house and we really didn’t know what was going on. Around noon my grandmother comes home and tells me us our mother is dead. I respect her so much because she was a gangster about it. This was her daughter and she was only the tender age of 23. I was the mama’s boy and I use to be with my mother all the time. It’s kinda hard to this day because I didn’t cry at the funeral. I sat there and I wanted to jump in the casket. The whole procession was silent. No one was crying I think everybody was in a shock. My uncle died the previous year so I know 95′ and 96′ was a hard year for my family I know he was in his early twenties also. I just remember him making me pancakes when I was 4. He left behind 2 daughters and a son. I think my living uncles both turned to heavy drinking losing both of their younger siblings. My Gma turned to faith as her means and outlet. That’s a lot That’s all I remember besides family and friends telling me dumb stuff like she was sleeping or she with the angels or everything happens for a reason. I had a lot of situations in my life where I could have done greater than I have. I have had a lot of relationships in my life where I could have tried harder but much like Deniz D I lack that true source of emotion I can’t feel them.
I am happy but I don’t have deep rooted happiness especially in relationships even with women I actually care for.
Beth PattersonOctober 12th, 2014 at 7:20 AM
I appreciate everyone’s reflections on their own early losses, and I’m honored that my article provided a vehicle for you to do so.
All losses, especially early ones, inform how we are in relationships and life. This can be difficult, but also an opportunity to grow and heal. I hope you all find peace, and know that I am here to be of support.
sondraOctober 14th, 2014 at 9:16 PM
I completely relate with a lot of your stories ..I’m 35 years old, but when I was 5 months old I lost my father to suicide and drugs…the sad truth is even though I never got the memory of bonding with my father, the lost and emptiness I’ve endured has always been with me..and now a mother of two ..I can’t help but feel the emotional roller coaster of not having my father to share these precious times with me and family ..and being my father and mother’s only child I had no one to share this pain with while growing up because my mom wouldn’t allow me to ask questions, she never liked talking about my father …so my experience is the loss you feel of a parent never goes away it only gets easy to bare..but that void will always be there ..but I’ve had this to help me throughout the years.
My daddy is watching me and it’s my job to always do things in my life to put a beautiful smile on his face..I’ve always tried to please my father and be the daughter he would be proud of..that’s the main thing that’s gotten me through…thanks for your time …
c.smithOctober 15th, 2014 at 5:13 PM
I lost my father at the age of ten, and I still can’t get over it. I’m 45 now,I had know idea others go through the same struggle after so many years. Stay strong.
Clare sNovember 6th, 2014 at 11:00 PM
I was 11 and I feel the same. I didn’t think it was normal after all these years to grieve hard.I am female and lost my dad. I wanted to know did or do you have a hard time bonding with partners. I can’t share feelings either. I wish I knew if this was all related. Do you have any insight or issues you have ran into as growing into an adult and now as an adult? I’m now 37 now. Thanks for any advice you might have.
Vibha KDecember 8th, 2014 at 1:14 AM
I lost my papa in october this year. I was closest to him. He was posted away from home but there was not a day he did not call. Especially to wish me luck in my exams. There are no words to tell what ive lost and am missing. Before I used to cry a lot but now I dont. Papa is always with me now I think. He loved mom a lot so I try to be strong in front of her. Inside I feel I lost a piece of heart.
AshuDecember 15th, 2014 at 9:58 PM
My wife committed suicide a month ago while her two kids, 3 and 8.5 year old, were playing in other room. My elder one saw his mother when I broke open the door. We both saw it the same time .. And while I held her up and asked my son to bring knife to cut the rope… He was constantly screaming … Horrible sight and those screams still haunt me. We all are still in mess… However am very much concerned about my son .. Since then he hasn’t even cried or shown any anger… He avoid talking about his mother… He has started going to school a week after and is doing OK … But his not talking about his mom and not crying is making me feel that he is not OK. Please help, suggest what should I do in this situation
December 16th, 2014 at
Hi, Ashu. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html
Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.
The GoodTherapy.org Team
DanielDecember 21st, 2014 at 12:42 PM
I just lost my dad sometime between last Friday and this past Wednesday. The police notified me he had a seizure and he was dead for a couple days. I miss my dad so much. He lived just down the road and I should have went and saw him more. I feel so bad I’ve cried constantly since I was told at work. Last time I saw him was when he was in the hospital like a month ago. I should’ve stayed longer I should have spend more time. He had his Christmas tree out and it pisses me off I can’t get one more Christmas with him. I’m torn so bad I can’t eat or sleep right. I feel like I’m the only one in my family besides my mom that cares. My parents are divorced and I’ve always been closer to my dad. I held his hand in the hospital and I will always cherish that. I walked down to his house on fathers day and gave him a fathers day card. I got it back yesterday and it killed me knowing he’s gone and I’ll never get to spend another fathers day with him. I feel like the world has no color and everything is dual. I’m 26 and I don’t know what to do. It feels like I have a hole in my chest. I wish I can have him back so much.
Beth PattersonDecember 22nd, 2014 at 8:18 AM
Dear Daniel –
I am so sorry for your loss. I highly recommend getting some support for yourself, especially since the loss of your father was so sudden traumatic. If you want to let me know where you live, I could help you find an experienced grief therapist. Best wishes to you.
ElizabethJanuary 11th, 2015 at 6:39 PM
I am 16 and I lost my mom 2 months ago. I was at my basketball bonding the night of November 14, 2014 and when I went home the next day I saw my mom crying on the floor because her back was hurting, so my dad called the chiropractor. My dad went to work after he called the chiropractor and I drove her up there and when she came out she was perfectly fine and the chiropractor gave her some muscle relaxers. When we got home she got in the bathtub to take a bath and I was in the living room watching a movie. She was in the bathtub for about 15-20 minutes but I didn’t think anything of it because she liked to read in the tub, so I just went off to watching my movie. But after 40 minutes went by she still didn’t get out so I went to check on her and it looked like she wasn’t breathing until she took a breathe. So I went back to watching my movie, ten minutes went past and my mom still wasn’t out of the tub so I went to check on her and she wasn’t breathing so I did what I could I called the ambulance and got her out of the bathtub and tried to do for until the ambulance got there. When they got to my house it took them 30 minutes to get her to respond so they could take her to the hospital and my dad was at 2 hours away and my grandparents were on any anniversary date about 4 hours away and my sister was in Ohio for a rugby tournament so I waited at the hospital by myself until my family got there, but before they got there the doctor took me into see my mom and told me that she probably wasn’t going to make it and I don’t see why he would tell me that it’s not like I didn’t already feel bad he had to drop that on me and without my family there to talk to. I am a junior in highschool and I have created a grief session at my school for my other classmates that have also lost a parent. I have also declared that my major in college is going to be grief counseling so I can help people that have lost someone they care about deeply like I have.
Erica WJanuary 22nd, 2015 at 12:42 AM
Where do I start, my beloved hubby died in October last year. I have a daughter of 12. We had been married 2 years. But together nearly 8 years. My hubby got mesothemia cancer and been ill for a year and a half. If anyone knows with this cancer you waist away. I finally couldn’t do anymore for him at home, went to our local hospice on a friday . I stayed with him and my daughter slept at hospice to. They were brilliant. He passed away on Wednesday morning. With my daughter and myself by his side holding his hand. The problem is my daughter can’t let go. I have had to I am a mum so need to function for her. Not easy. My daughter has counling, been in and out of hospital for stomachs aches and feeling sick all the time. She has missed so much time off school. The school try and understand but they don’t how can they? Has anyone else gone through this.?? How can I help her.
lisaJanuary 29th, 2015 at 4:02 PM
Hi my daughter is 3 and she lost her daddy 2 days ago and don’t no what to do she was mad on him but she will not except his dead and in heaven she just keeps saying goes and I’ll get ladders to come get him :( it’s killing me she’s waking up crying in the middle of the night for daddy I don’t no what to do
ConnieMarch 1st, 2015 at 5:50 PM
I lost my Mother when I was 7 I am now 53. I have never talked about my feelings. I have a therapist but I dont think we will get that deep. I’m still angry or hurt I don’t know. I feel that I blocked the pain when mom died and I do the same thing with all losses to this day. I feel just lost. Therapist says I’m void of self.
- March 24th, 2015 at 10:02 AM
AnaApril 12th, 2015 at 3:25 PM
Hello everyone. I am so sorry to read about all your stories of loss.
My mother died of lung cancer when I was 12. I am 23 now and even though it’s been over 10 years I still feel like I never got to properly grieve.
It has always made me feel different and alone. All my friends have their mothers and it feels so unfair that they all get to experience this great and important relationship and I don’t. I still feel like a 12 year old sometimes. I didn’t have her with me in my teen years to help me grow. I don’t have any sisters so I had to find out to be a woman on my own, and even today I often feel like I am not as much a woman as everyone else I know.
In my family grieve just didn’t and still doesn’t happen together. When she died no one really talked to me about it. I only remember being told she was weak and she died and that’s it. Even before she died, when she was sick, no one ever sat down with me to explain what was going on. I had to figure it all out on my own, listening to conversations, paying attention to stuff, and for years and years after her death I kept discovering new things and Im sure I still don’t know everything about it. And I don’t remember any of my family members asking me how I felt and what I needed. Of course it was for them too. I feel like I was just left to deal with her death alone. I live with my dad and two older brothers. We rarely talk about her and when we do it seems like it has to be in this very negative sad tone, I just hate the way they deal with it, and the way they don’t deal with it.
I dont to my friends about it, although they all know about it. I guess I’ve always avoided talking about it, in part because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable and of course because it’s extremely painful to me.
I thought this was okay and that I had overcome her death. But for the last year I started talking about it to one very close friend of mine and I realise I have so much sadness and anger still, and it’s really hard for me to talk about her. To be honest I am sensitive to even hearing the word mother. Now it’s nice to have someone to talk to and just say everything and cry. It’s been ten years and now I finally feel I am beggining a proper positive grieving journey.
GabrielleApril 20th, 2015 at 8:35 AM
thank you to everyone as ur comments help us not feel alone…on April 1st one day after my son turned 8, and 9 days before my birthday, his father my friend, lover, and at times my favorite person to argue with of 18 years was killed in a freak motorcycle accident we were not living together at the time we still loved each other He was 36. I am filled with regret and sadness. To my son his dad was his hero they were very close I it very hard for us right now. and the we will never forget him. I can’t stop crying alothough I am being strong in other ways I’m being as caring as possible. My son has disbelief, stomoche aches, everywhere he looks he either sees his dads favorite color or his face and body. We miss him so badly. We both feel emotionally and physically drained. My son is an only child and now it’s just him and I. Fear that he will always be plagued by sadness and worry if he will be damaged especially because his dads death was so close to his birthday…. any advice on how to keep myself strong and still be there for my son would be appriciated thank you
AmandaApril 21st, 2015 at 4:48 AM
My son’s father committed suicide right before Christmas. There is a burial service and my ex’s family does not want me to go but wants my son to go. My son is 12 years old. I’m wondering what I should do? Should I allow my son to go with them? My son has a brother and 2 sisters that the family doesn’t want there either. Looking for advice cause I don’t know what to do.
Beth PattersonApril 21st, 2015 at 6:59 PM
Thank you for all of the poignant comments. Losing a parent, no matter at what age, affects our whole sense of self. Please get support where you can. Journaling about your feelings can be a great way to express what you’re feeling.
Gabrielle and Amanda – You have both sustained traumatic losses. I highly recommend that you get counseling for yourself and your sons.
To many of you who have written about your children: There are children’s grief groups (with parent groups at the same time) in many communities which can be extremely beneficial. Just knowing you’re not alone, and having your children experience a community of others who have experienced the death of a loved one is tremendously helpful.
Amanda, in response to your question, does your son want to go to the service without you? It’s up to him. I think its unfair for them to shut you out. People think that ex-partners don’t grieve the loss of their former partners, but they do. This can compound your own grief.
I have a number of articles, in addition to the one you all responded to, on my website that you might find beneficial. It’s bethspatterson.com
Wishing all of you peace and healing. Beth Patterson
JacquiApril 25th, 2015 at 12:33 PM
I’m sorry for your loss of your mother at your young age, I’m struggling to ajust with the death of my own mother who passed away nearly 6 weeks ago from lung cancer & I’m 46 years old.
I don’t think you can ever get over the loss of a parent, I cry myself to sleep every night & im so angry with people around me.
Thoughts are with you, Jacqui
ZerrinbMay 4th, 2015 at 4:32 PM
I too lost my parents, actually both of them this past year within 9 months of each other, both unexpected.
My mom just passed away this past March 9.
I wasn’t over grieving for my Dad, & then was thrown back into the depths again with the traumatic loss of my mom.
Having so much trouble dealing with the grief no matter what I try, books, therapy, support groups, etc. Loved them both dearly, nothing unresolved, just desperately miss them every day. I’m not spiritual or comforted by a faith community & have many loving family friends to support. Have 2 brothers who I am basically caring for ( both brain injuries – 1 from stroke, 1 from accident) .
Any tips, advice appreciated.
TorresMay 6th, 2015 at 7:22 PM
The one i love, she saw her mom’s suicide her mom jumps in the 15th floor of their condominium unit when she was 9yrs old now she’s 17 turning 18 her father didn’t get her into proper coping/theraphy i know she’s still sad but she doesn’t show and i want to help her heal emotionally… i hope you can suggest something to me…thankd
LouLouMay 10th, 2015 at 7:57 AM
I have been having a day today where I think about my family and am left feeling low. I found this sight through some googling. I don’t want to say that I am encouraged by the stories on here because that makes it sound like we are all triumphing. I have however felt some comfort in realising I am not alone, and a great deal of sadness for the same reason.
I lost my my mum at 8. There was little to no build up. She was sick for 2 or 3 weeks in the build up, everyone initially thought it was severe flu. That developed to tests for meningitis. Then the bruises began to appear rapidly, and cancer was finally diagnosed. Within 2 days she was gone. Conversations between my dad and the doctors confirmed that the cancer was likely lurking in the body for a year at least before presenting itself. I can find a little comfort knowing my mum didn’t suffer for long.
My mum wasn’t there when I needed her the most. She isn’t here now and I feel I need her more than ever. Puberty gives me nightmares of a time I was meant to grow but mentally didn’t. I also feel like a child half the time. I sometimes wonder if I just crave to go back to before and am clinging to childhood. I feel like a kid. I visit the places we always used to go to for comfort, often alone. I seek comfort in children’s things such as merchandise from my favourite children’s tv shows that I loved back then. I’m 26, I feel 8. I still try and find mother comforts from older women in my life because I also spent most of my life without my nan and grandma (one I never met, I was basically raised by men. Surrounded by love, my remaining family did everything for me and kept me going and couldn’t have been more supportive). Yet….I feel like I can’t cry to anyone because I’m older, it happened so long ago…..it hurts much more as an adult.
My dad sent me to counselling and some sort of special club type meetings for children in the same boat. These were not the most effective I don’t think but it wasn’t a bad place to go either. The people I learned to trust were the ones that were ready and willing with a hug and an ear when it suddenly all came out. I crave a mothers hug more than anything.
Is this familiar to anyone? I just wonder why I seek out so many child like things, I don’t feel like a grown up, I just want my mum back!
kristinMay 26th, 2015 at 1:59 AM
My 10 y/o sons father died in January and I am so lost on how to help him. My son is one of those who cries if you look at him sideways but he hasn’t shed a tear for his dad. I know things have gotten to him because I see his anger towards me and school. He is also distancing himself from his fraternal grandparents. Anytime I ask him about his feelings I always here “fine” or “I dont want to talk about it”. What do I do? This is tearing us too far apart. From a concerned mom…..
LesleyJuly 10th, 2015 at 8:41 AM
My mother was instantly killed in 1970 when she was thrown from our car along with my 5 year old sister and 9 month old brother. I was 3 years old at the time and myself and my cousin, also 3, were not injured. They life lined my siblings to Reilly Childrens hospital and my cousin and I were taken care of by one of the officers on the scene until family could be reached to come get us. We were about an hour away, on our way home from our grandmothers home. I was recently told that I saw my mom and my siblings on the side of the road and was hysterical and crying before help got to us. I remember as a child having the same recurring nightmare… I had many problems as an adolescent and into adulthood. My therapist says I’m the most thin skinned person he’s ever met. I catastrophise things and worry incessantly. Little things scare me and I’ve become very anti-social unless you’re very close family or my own children. I’ve had a slew of substance abuse problems (mainly alcohol) and other dangerous behaviors like drinking and driving. I have many failed relationships, with girlfriends and men in my life. I think I have abandonment problems and it’s very painful when these break ups happen. Almost like the end of the world kind of anxiety and depression. I look back now and wonder if what happened at the accident has a lot to do with how I am now. I sometimes feel guilt for having lived so much loner than my mother got to. She was 27 when she was killed. I remember when I got close to being her age I got real wild and lived pretty dangerously because I felt guilt and figured I would soon die too. So messed up my thought process through the years. Now I just wonder how things would’ve been had this not happened. My dad was the love of her life and his too. He’s never talked about her until recently, 45 years later. I guess him getting older now he wants to share some things with me and it’s bringing back such sadness. I hope I can one day let go of all my overwhelming fears and live a more carefree and happy life. My 14 year old children are going to choke me if I don’t loosen up a bit. So strange to me how this traumatic event continues to impact me 45 years later. I’ll always miss my mommy and wonder what a beautiful person she must’ve been.
Irene LJuly 26th, 2015 at 11:51 AM
i was 8 when my beloved dad died. Mum didnt tell us he was ill, all we knew was we were left with somebody and dad was in hospital. That was a friday a few days later we were ushered out the back to play and after that we were told not to go into the front bedroom or woe betide us. We werent told dad had died we werent told he was in the front room we were too young to understand why people were going in and out of there. The day of the funeral we were told by a stranger that my daddy was dead, we werent allowed to go to the funeral we were kept upstairs all the time. I am 64 years old now and i heard a piece of music by mantovani and i was in bits, i dont know where id heard that music before but immediately my daddy was there watzing me round a room. My mother never spoke about dad she blamed us because we were poor. Somedays we never ate, but she had boxes of money for the local church. We were always hungry, why would she be like that. I love my children
To bits, it was like she hated my sister and i but my brother was different he was the man of the house now he was 2 years old. My mother is 94 now but if we ask a question about dad she says she cant remember, there is nothing wrong with her mind. Why would someone do that to us. I would love to know what my daddy was like i never heard a bad word about him when i was growing up, he was a lovely man.
BarbaraAugust 27th, 2015 at 11:58 PM
I think you do know what to do. Your son Needs his family around him at this time. You are his family. You and his siblings. Stay close throughout this ordeal and take charge of Your family. No one tells me what to do with my children. I may not always be right but my kids know I am right there beside them. My mom once said, it’s the mom who runs the household. A strong mom, strong kids. And the other way around. You feel you should all be there so trust your feelings and go with them or you will regret not going.
Karina CSeptember 1st, 2015 at 8:29 PM
So im 15 and my dad recently passed away about 3 weeks ago. Andi havent been feeling good at all when im at school i feel like nervous and i feel like im gonna just start balling my eyes out. And i dont feel comfortable at school. I remember about everything that happened there more than at home. I was wondering if online schooling would be a good thing for me since being at school is makeong me feel horrible?? Please let me know
MeredithSeptember 28th, 2015 at 2:02 PM
Very difficult indeed. I was adopted at birth (closed). When I was 4, my adoptive mother with whom I had managed to bond very deeply with, was diagnosed with cancer. From 4 to 1 month after turning 13, everyday I wondered and asked if “mommy would die today”. As much as I am thankful for those miraculous 10 years she managed to fight with end-stage cancers, I am certainly damaged irreparably. I agree that the relationship with the surviving parent is important. My “parents” were together but I had NO relationship with my adoptive father- he had a temper and I was scared of him. My father’s world revolved around taking care of my mother and working to support our family (him, mom, my brother [their biological child conceived before hyderectomy]). The final blow was dealt when not even a full year after she died (no doubt in paralyzing grief himself after 25 years of good marriage) he sent me off to a “therapeutic/residential boarding school” and I was abused in many forms (look up Logan River Academy). I have been on my own since 14, with no guidance. I am certainly very flawed, and excuse my language but a really f@$#$ed-up person. A lifetime of struggle due to a sh#tty hand of cards. This also didn’t allow me to relate very well to my peers considering they knew who they came from, what their identity/heritage was (I had none to this information), and for 10 years I watched my mother suffer…. scared to touch her because of the port bump on her left collarbone- that I might hurt her. Everyday wondering if I would lose the only person I’ve ever managed to love. And then to be thrown away by the last person left. I do believe that the loss of my mother had the greatest significance, but I don’t think I would’ve ever been here had it not been for years of abandonment, and abuse. My father had the choice to step in…. and he didn’t. I have made many choices…. I’ve been plagued by serious drug addictions- a desperate attempt to escape my lifetime of struggle- many of these choices the wrong ones. However, I maintain 4.0 grades, and still share some ambitions, if for no other reason other than to discontinue a lifetime of being alone. I have much difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships, and cannot sexually connect with another person. But I did my best with the VERY little I had. I suppose what caused me to search for this today is hearing of a friend’s friend, who has 3 weeks to live (who hasn’t talked to her own daughter about it yet), and the daughter is 12. My heart hurts so deeply for this child. I don’t expect her to wind up like me because most people don’t continually get knocked down with things out of their control….. but I know what it’s like to see the physical changes- what she looked like emaciated. I know what it’s like to not have her at my college graduation, or wedding.
I’m sure you can imagine how much it grates me to hear these little spoiled, teenage pieces of sh$t with their biggest problems being “not getting the new generation iPod or iPhone for Christmas”. So many people, so unaware of their blessings… so unaware of how truly cold the world can be…. so absolutely ungrateful for the simplest things, and actually having the belief that their life is “so hard”.
JeannetyeOctober 5th, 2015 at 5:44 PM
My Ex husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer on 05/28/14 and he passed on 11/07/2014. We are all devastated. But one of my daughters is really bad she is 21. And she has completely pushed everyone away. Including me. I don’t know what to do or how to help her. She moved away and I hear she’s not going down a good path. She graduated high school and was in college to be an RN I don’t know if she’s even going anymore. Please help me I’m afraid I’m losing her..
October 8th, 2015 at
My mom died from brain cancer when I was three years old, and within 6 months , her mom also passed from the same thing. It was really hard on me at the time. I was so young that I didn’t realize that my mom wouldn’t be coming back, and for a couple years after I was under the impression that she would return. After my mom passed, her mom moved in with my dad, brother, sister and I, and took on the motherly role, but she died too. It was really upsetting for me, losing my mother and a woman who was like a second mother to me at the time. Now that I’m 16, it is still very painful for me. A girl at my age needs a mother to help her through her teenage years and early adulthood, but I don’t have that. I have a step mom, but I don’t connect with her the way I’m sure I would have connected with my mother. A lot of people say that when you get older it gets easier, and you start to remember all of the good things, but all my memories of my mom are when she was very sick and in the hospital. I miss my mom dearly, and I wish that no other child at that age, or any age, has to go through the loss that I experienced.
ClaireOctober 9th, 2015 at 11:17 AM
My husband died suddenly on his 31st b’day just this past August. I have a 3 yr old son and we are both trying to come to terms with this extreme loss. He was my sons whole world and I have no idea how to help him cuz I too am so very lost without him where do we go frm here and how can I help him. Pls give me some advise.
Beth PattersonOctober 10th, 2015 at 7:54 PM
Thank you all for continuing willingness to share your personal stories of loss, since my article was published here in 2009. My hearts are with all of you.
AngelaOctober 24th, 2015 at 7:47 AM
My sister and her two children ages 9 and 4 lost their father May 1,2014 from suicide one year after they separated. There is a history of depression and addiction. My sister hasn’t gotten herself or the children counseling and I am concerned for them. She is in denial of my nephew’s (the 9 yr old) obvious issues. He has eating and sleep issues, will only eat very specific non nutritious foods, but has always been particular, the sleep issues are new. Also bed wetting problems, which he has always had. He is very negative and also very angry and mean to his 4yr old sister. I believe he may blame her for his fathers death or at least his parent’s separation as things started to go downhill shortly after she was born. He hardly speaks of his father or his grief. I want to reach out him so badly and be someone he can talk to about how he feels about his fathers death but he is very guarded and I can tell he doesn’t want to talk about it. Please tell me how to help them. Its been a year and a half and I’m afraid I’m losing them. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thank you.
carrieOctober 28th, 2015 at 4:20 PM
Clare, I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my mother suddenly when I was a child. My mom was our world. She had my sister and I when she was young and passed away at 29 yrs old from a very uncommon brain condition which went miss diagnosed as a sinus infection. I am now 37 and have a family of my own.If you have any questions you would like to ask me feel free to email me. My sister and I qreived very differently so I feel I could help you understand what your son may go through, if you would like my input. Best wishes for your family
carrieOctober 28th, 2015 at 4:29 PM
For all who need to understand a loss of a parent. There will be an HBO special on a camp for children who have lost parents.
KatherineNovember 11th, 2015 at 10:27 PM
Hello – I am really struggling to make a decision regarding my dying exhusband. Our children are 14 and 17. They have not lived with him, been close to him, and unsupported by him for 4 years. I have been remarried for a year, they are very close to their stepdad. Their real dad is dying of cancer and is in hospice. He is incoherent and extremely thin. We live in another country so traveling for them to say goodbye and be there for the funeral is unpredictable timing and difficult to judge. The question is, is it best for them to see him alive once more – even in this incoherent state, or should we just attend the funeral? Not sure there’s a right or wrong answer, but open to advice. Thank you for your time.
UnaNovember 13th, 2015 at 5:54 PM
To Clare who lost her husband in August. My dad died a couple of weeks after my 5th birthday. My advice would be you and your son need to help each other. My mum did her best but although she didn’t cry in front of me I heard her crying in the night.This made me feel I had to be the strong one. 50 years on this weekend it would have been better if we’d cried together and talked about it there and then. Maybe then I’d have not blamed myself for making him cross with me that morning and then he wouldn’t have crashed his motorbike…. I blamed myself right up until I found out many years later he’d had a bleed on the brain noone knew about.
In the 1960s it was different. I was left in the car outside the church and not allowed at the graveside but told to wait yards away that was the worst waiting alone.Everything in our lives changed from that moment on. Mum was different we had to move I started school.
If your son believes he will see his dad again someday in heaven let him believe it. It was repeated to me so many times that mine was gone for ever that it confused everything I’d ever been given to believe about god and in its wake ruined Christmas and Easter too.
It may sound cruel but noone can help your son
in so far as The void will remain and loom large at birthdays Christmas marriage birth of his own children.One thing I am grateful for was the number of photos we had of him. Even though my children never met him they know their grandad and love him threw stories and pictures. So whatever photos you have electronically get them saved and physically printed. Your son and his children will treasure them.
Vatsal MNovember 15th, 2015 at 10:03 AM
Karina, change is life. I’m really sorry to hear about your father and I know you have had a very tough time, but life will not stop. It will throw many such challenges at you. I myself am 15 and today, the mother of my Very good friend passed away. But that doesn’t mean that he should stop living life. You have to be strong as well as practical and face the hard times no matter what. I’m pretty sure that you are strong enough to live your life in the same normal way you did earlier. Why should you let your dad’s soul feel the guilt of you not going to school. He would be very happy up there if you become brave and go to school. :-)
CaitlinNovember 15th, 2015 at 10:15 PM
Hello. The father of my two children aged 2 and 3 died from suicide nearly one year ago. His birthday is tomorrow and I have balloons for the kids to let off but was wondering if anyone had any ideas that my children can do for tomorrow?
Suzy tNovember 20th, 2015 at 1:50 PM
Hi, I’ve also lost my 2 year old sons dad to Suicide and share your grief. I lost my sister to suicide and every year our family let’s of a lantern in the sky. To acknowledge my sons dad this Christmas, we wants to pick a Christmas decoration or make one and put it on our tree. Hope this helps.
MSNovember 21st, 2015 at 7:19 AM
I have lived with a widower and his children for over a year now and we have “officially” been engaged for about two months…around which time we found out I was pregnant. Recently, the eldest child also died suddenly from self-inflicted wounds. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to manage making a home and new life, where me and our unborn child will comfortably fit in, while also remaining considerate of my fiancé and the surviving child’s grief without continuing to compromising my emotions and needs as well. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells in the house that is supposed to also be my home. Over the past couple of weeks, the child (who I am trying to love and raise as my own) keeps falsely recalling events and things we have done together as memories of the biological mother, and remains adamant when I say that whatever’s being talked about is something we did together. My fiancé just allows the child to make up memories without trying to correct facts, and I feel like this does little to nothing to help facilitate a healthy grieving process. He also refuses to go to professional counseling…so of course the child (now 9 years old) follows suit. Throughout all of this, I am the only one who has sought professional counseling to try in cope with my own grief and better understand theirs. And while the child’s false attribution of memories dealing with the biological mother and lost sibling have come up in the past (or completely false memories altogether), it especially hurts now that this is happening with the first memories we have been forming as new mother figure and child over the past year. Have any of you who lost a parent at a young age, or are the surviving parent, gone through this? How did you help the child recognize facts surrounding life before and after the death of a parent? How did the new partners or parent figures handle it? Any experiences you can share would truly be appreciated.
Dan M.November 22nd, 2015 at 2:09 PM
I have an unusual situation. I’m a 68 year young grandpa of 5 beautiful grand daughters. One of them is 6 year old Savannah. Her dad was my late son Todd. At 37 Todd accidently mixed oxycontin with alcohol and 3 years ago he died in his sleep (Nov 2012). Savannah was 3 at the time. My son Todd was not married to or living with Savannah’s mom at the time. They never married but were together for 18 months after Savannah was born. Todd was a good loving father and just worshipped Savannah. He got a bad lawyer and could only get supervised visitation. Savannah’s mom came to Todd’s visitation and Savannah who was a VERY bright 3 and a half years old then, looked away from the casket and just hugged her mom. Our family gets along fairly well with Savannah’s mom Heather but Heather won’t allow us to take Savannah for private visits even though Todd has been gone 3 years now. I don’t think Savannah has been allowed to grieve age appropriately. Heather asked me to “not mention Todd” and “please don’t cry around Savannah”. I should add both my late son Savannah’s dad Todd was an educated medical professional and Todd’s ex Heather is also an educated caring professional. My question is: Heather says when she mentions her dad Todd that Savannah gets “upset” and leaves the room. Yet Heather is kind enough to allow Todd’s picture with he and Savannah together at a park when she was almost 3 to be put on Savannah’s bedroom dresser and it has a caption “me and daddy”. I should add Heather and my son never really got along—. As Savannah’s grandpa what’s the best thing to do? It’s hard not to “mention” her dad Todd when I’m still grieving him too. Grandparents have few rights in visitation according to Michigan law so i dont want to get Heather angry or it’ll be hard to see my grand daughter. What’s your advice? By the way, Savannah is VERY mature and acs MUCH older than her current 6 years. She looks talks and relates to her half sister Abby very well and seems to be a very happy well adjusted little girl. In looking at the hundreds of letters on this site i havnt seen a problem like mine. Any suggestions are sure appreciated. Thanks.
Stephen.j.CNovember 28th, 2015 at 12:33 PM
I don’t know if my story is relevant or not. But when i was 25 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She fought a very hard battle at our home up and until two days before her death on August 9/1999. She was graceful and brave all the way until her untimely passing. My mothers funeral was held on Friday August 13, 1999. The very next day was my 26’th Birthday August 14,1999. I am in no way making this a pity party 4 me but my life changed the day she passed and i lost my Father twelve years later on October 2,2012. Ironicly if that word even fits the situation his funeral was held on Friday October 5,2012. The next day Saturday October 6,2012 was my sons 8’th Birthday. He was devestated by my fathers his grandpa’s death as the two of them were very close as was I with both my parents. We were living at my fathers house at the time of his untimely passing. So what my comment is or question, I have been lost angry and an emotional,functioning alcoholic since my mothers death. My two beautiful and wonderful children were born 11 months apart my son born i. 2004 & my daughter in 2005. I am a very proud and loving father. However I have never been able to find peace with my mothers death and my father passed that has just devestated not only my son but myself as well. So i am trying but to no avail tfying to cope but i am struggling and I wish i could make peace with this,as i feel I am failing as father to my children my wife, my finances and last my extended family. My extended family however are not of great importance to me as they are phoney, & totaly all fully self centered. But my children do miss and I agree need to see and know them. So in all im just looking for a way to come to some kind of closure with my parents passing and to help my childten through it as well. But to become a better person and father as well.
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