Why Losing a Parent Hurts So Much, No Matter Your Age

By Sergejs Marmilovs

Why Losing a Parent Hurts So Much, No Matter Your Age

I became an orphan when I was 32 years old. Despite my age and professional experience, my mothers’ death shortly followed by the death of my sister changed me forever. My world changes got ripped apart and I went off the rails. I drowned my pain and suffering with the use of alcohol, chemical drugs and promiscuity.

My world came unravelled and pushed people away that truly cared for me. People say it is like losing a part of yourself, but I felt like my anchor to my identity was what had been severed.

Shock, numbness, denial, anger, sadness, and despair are the feelings most people cycle through after the loss of a loved one. These emotions can persist in varying degrees for many months afterwards. Most people experience these feelings in stages that occur in no particular order but diminish in intensity over time. My personal fog didn’t seem to lift for more than twenty months. No matter how long it takes, many people around you may get impatient for you to feel better sooner than you do. Yet some people continue experiencing intense emotions for years after the loss, and that sustained grief can have cognitive, social, cultural, and spiritual effects.

When I finally hit rock bottom, I started looking for help. But where and how? There are so many therapist and support groups. But finding what I needed was personal and it needed to work for me. The mental health system was saturated and I felt like a number. Antidepressants were the answers I got given by my Doctors. But for me, that was not an option.

I wanted something more natural and I wanted to return to Alternative therapies and Alternative life choices to recovery. Finding myself and the strength and courage I needed I got through yoga and alternative therapies and being kind to myself.

The Link Between Grief, Addiction, and Mental Illness

Studies show that losing a parent can lead to increased risks for long-term emotional and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. This is especially true if a person doesn’t receive ample support during their bereavement and, if they are young when a parent dies, stable and consistent surrogate parenting. Losing a parent in childhood significantly raises the risk of developing mental health issues, and about one in 20 children aged 15 and younger have suffered the loss of one or both parents.
Another factor that influences the development of mental health issues is the person’s perception of their closeness to the deceased and how much the loss changes their lives. This is not to say that people don’t experience feelings of grief if they lose a parent they didn’t feel close to, get along with, or know well—that loss may still be felt quite deeply.

Survey data on the long-term effects of parental loss indicate that filial bereavement can impact both mental and physical health, with men being more likely to report physical health issues. Data also show that gender influences the impact of parental death—men who lose their father appear to experience the loss more keenly than daughters, while women who lose their mother appear to be more deeply impacted than sons.

Grief Interventions: When You Need Help Recovering from Loss

Research into attachment theory and bereavement theory has led to the development of grief interventions that help people heal from a loss. Grief interventions are most effective when they focus on the bereaved individual’s personal resources and capacity for enhancing their own resilience, as well as on palliative care from primary care providers and family members in the months after the loss. When a person experiences complicated grief or sustained grief—grief that persists long after the months following a death—additional interventions and evaluation for mental health issues may be warranted.

Since everyone processes loss in their own way and on their own individual timeline, it can be difficult to recognize when and if feelings of loss have developed into complicated grief. Also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder, this more protracted form of grief is usually marked by emotions so severe, painful, and long-lasting that a person cannot seem to accept the loss and move forward to resume life, even many months or years afterwards.

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