Losing a child is one of the most painful experiences imaginable. If you’re facing the death of an adult child, you may feel like you’ll never recover. While we understand that loss is a part of life as we age, losing a child is not a part of the natural order of the world. You may feel like your whole life has been turned upside-down and that the grief will never subside.
One of the reasons that the grief is so painful is because there are so many layers to it. Many parents experience intense feelings of guilt after the death of an adult child. You may tell yourself that you could have prevented the death, or you may feel guilty for carrying on after your child has passed. Although these feelings are unfair to you, that doesn’t make the thoughts feel any less real. Guilt is an especially common emotion for grieving parents, and it can be difficult to express these feelings to loved ones.
Although life is not the same after the death of an adult child, it is possible to manage your grief and survive the experience. The pain may never fully go away, but you can learn how to sit with it as you rediscover your meaning and purpose in life. The most important thing you can do is extend compassion and empathy to yourself as you navigate this trauma.
Here Are Six Things You Can Do to Overcome Your Grief after the Loss of an Adult Child
1. Let yourself grieve.
As a parent, you may be more used to taking an active role in difficult situations. Your instincts may tell you to spring into action, check up on those around you, and do whatever you can to make the circumstances better. In this moment, though, you have to allow yourself space and time to feel your grief. Suppressing the emotions may feel better right now, but they will not go away unless you truly process them.
Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel without judgment. As long as you stay safe, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. After the death of an adult child, many parents describe feeling angry, lonely, shocked, or numb. Everyone’s experience with grief is different, and everything that you feel is valid. Grief is an extremely complicated and painful experience, and you must be as compassionate with yourself at this time as you would be with a loved one.
2. Spend some time alone.
Finding the balance between giving yourself space and seeking support from others can be difficult, but it’s necessary to do both while you’re grieving. Friends, family, and community members may reach out frequently to check up on you, but being constantly surrounded by other people may prevent you from grieving as authentically as you need to. If you’re starting to feel exhausted from having to put on an act in front of others, spend some time by yourself.
Let your loved ones know that you appreciate their support, but communicate with them that you need some time to be alone. You may want to spend time alone in the comfort of your home, or you may decide to get a change of scene and go somewhere else to sit with your emotions. There’s no time limit to this practice, either. If the grief starts to overwhelm you years from now, you can still take the time that you need to be by yourself.
3. Connect with your loved ones.
Some people spend so much time surrounded by family and friends after losing an adult child that they need a reminder to spend time focusing on themselves. Others tend to withdraw from their loved ones while they’re grieving. Although alone time is critical for recovering from a loss, you also need social support to overcome this trauma.
Your other family members are experiencing grief, too, and you can all be an incredible source of support and solidarity for one another during this time. Even if you don’t feel comfortable opening up about your emotions to your family, simply being in each other’s presence can feel healing.
4. Ask for help.
No one expects you to navigate the grieving process all on your own. People in your life want to support you, and they’ll look for ways to help on their own. However, when you need something specific, you may have to reach out and ask for help. Maybe you’d like for a close friend to lend a listening ear, or maybe you’d prefer for your family to just keep you company for an afternoon without talking about the loss.
You can reach out for help on practical matters, too. Some people struggle to provide emotional support after a tragedy, but they’re happy to help by making meals, arranging transportation, or taking care of other tasks. If you can reduce your daily burden, you’ll have more emotional and physical energy to move through your grief.
5. Expect and dismiss insensitive comments.
Unfortunately, some people just don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, but they feel like they need to offer words of support or comfort. You’ll likely hear at least one insensitive or offensive comment from someone who means well but doesn’t understand what is or isn’t appropriate to say.
Dealing with these comments can be immensely difficult. You’re already in an emotionally vulnerable place, and hearing insensitive words from a friend or neighbor can make you feel even more angry or lonely. Brace yourself for these comments, and try to let them go in one ear and out the other. Most likely, the individual has good intentions and is just misguided. Focus your energy on yourself and your family, and try not to let the unhelpful comments cause more pain.
6. Seek counseling.
Grief counseling can be a valuable resource after losing an adult child. Sometimes, parents hesitate to express their pain and grief to loved ones because they want to stay strong for the sake of their family. If you feel like you need more support to cope with your grief, counseling might be the answer.
Counseling is a safe, stable, and private environment for you to process your grief. You can reminisce on your memories with your child, and you can express the sadness, anger, guilt, and other emotions you’re facing without feeling like you’re being scrutinized. Grief counseling is an opportunity for you to focus on yourself and your own emotions, which many parents struggle to do after a loss.
Not only does grief counseling provide a space for you to acknowledge what you’re going through and express your emotions, but it’s also a chance to learn valuable coping skills that you can use for years to come. Your counselor can work with you to find the techniques that help you stay calm and grounded during difficult moments, which will help you carry on even on the most difficult days.
The loss of a child is unimaginably painful, but you can survive it. Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers grief counseling, therapy for bereavement-related depression, and many other mental health services. Contact us today to learn more about our practice.