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The Death of a Parent: Healing Children’s Grief

 

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.

References

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.

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Comments
  • Mickie September 3rd, 2009 at 6:11 PM #1

    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 #2

    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.

  • George September 4th, 2009 at 11:47 AM #3

    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.

  • Cara September 5th, 2009 at 8:37 AM #4

    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, LPC September 5th, 2009 at 8:24 PM #5

    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., LMFT September 11th, 2009 at 1:38 PM #6

    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.

  • Patricia November 15th, 2009 at 7:07 PM #7

    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, LPC November 17th, 2009 at 5:09 PM #8

    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.

    Sincerely,
    Beth Patterson, MA, LPC

  • Jamie Carter November 16th, 2010 at 9:10 AM #9

    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. Willard December 27th, 2010 at 9:42 PM #10

    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. Willard December 27th, 2010 at 9:44 PM #11

    CORRECTION: It was my father’s MOTHER who died 3 months after he did.

  • jennifer January 31st, 2012 at 8:02 AM #12

    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.

  • Gareth July 12th, 2012 at 4:01 AM #13

    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.

  • Shelly October 17th, 2012 at 11:39 PM #14

    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.

  • Dennetta November 16th, 2012 at 7:33 AM #15

    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.

  • Dennetta November 16th, 2012 at 7:34 AM #16

    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.

  • sara November 20th, 2012 at 2:08 PM #17

    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.

  • TJ January 7th, 2013 at 10:31 AM #18

    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 Kusair January 14th, 2013 at 12:49 PM #19

    hello Shelly,

    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.

  • fish January 13th, 2014 at 11:05 PM #20

    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.

  • Ross January 21st, 2014 at 12:38 PM #21

    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.

  • admin2 January 23rd, 2014 at 9:31 AM #22

    Hi Ross,
    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);
      Go to the nearest hospital emergency room;
      Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY:1-800-799-4TTY)

    For further resources, please see this page: http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    We wish you the best,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Erika February 21st, 2014 at 12:23 PM #23

    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 Patterson February 21st, 2014 at 3:01 PM #24

    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.

  • Amee March 16th, 2014 at 2:54 PM #25

    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 Patterson March 17th, 2014 at 6:02 AM #26

    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 A May 14th, 2014 at 9:40 PM #27

    Hello:
    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 W May 19th, 2014 at 8:15 PM #28

    I lost my dad today, it hurts so bad.

  • Deniz D. June 17th, 2014 at 1:16 PM #29

    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.

  • Destynie July 25th, 2014 at 7:50 PM #30

    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!!!!

  • Gina August 16th, 2014 at 9:52 PM #31

    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.

  • Zerrinb August 31st, 2014 at 12:54 PM #32

    Deniz,
    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,
    Zerrin

  • Heidi October 3rd, 2014 at 7:17 PM #33

    Gina,
    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.
    Heidi

  • Nick M. October 6th, 2014 at 10:37 AM #34

    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

  • GoodTherapy.org Support October 6th, 2014 at 11:07 AM #35

    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.

  • Nancy October 10th, 2014 at 2:36 AM #36

    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 Patterson October 10th, 2014 at 9:01 AM #37

    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.

  • tookAcoupleLosses October 10th, 2014 at 12:46 PM #38

    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 Patterson October 12th, 2014 at 7:20 AM #39

    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.

  • sondra October 14th, 2014 at 9:16 PM #40

    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.smith October 15th, 2014 at 5:13 PM #41

    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.

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