Grieving The Death Of An Estranged Parent

Grief, often associated with a person’s passing, can take on more complex forms. Some individuals, myself included, grapple with the unique challenge of grieving the death of an estranged parent or experiencing preemptive grief over living relatives. I have personally mourned my mother for a long time before her passing. While the specifics are deeply personal and complicated, it’s crucial to realize that you are not alone in this struggle. Indeed, about 27% of Americans have chosen to cut ties with close family members. This reality prompts difficult questions: How does one navigate such grief when the parent is still alive? What steps can one take when a long-lost relative passes away?

We sought the advice of multiple specialists. What they said was as follows.

What Is Family Estrangement?

When one family member stops communicating with another member, an estrangement occurs. There may be more than one reason for this. Personality problems might cause some people to “take a step back.” One prime instance is narcissism. For some, the gap that space creates is an insurmountable obstacle. One more reason for parental alienation is being raised in an abusive home.

Why Does It Happen?

The breakdown of family relationships, especially between parents and their children, can be “caused” by several causes.

  • Mental illness.
  • Addiction.
  • Childhood maltreatment.
  • Extreme carelessness or callousness.
  • A parent who is very strict, domineering, or severe.
  • Separated parents.
  • Alienation.
  • Negativity.
  • Rivalry or strife inside the family.
  • Falsehood or scheming.
  • Narcissism.
  • Physical distance.

Some people become estranged from their parents as a result of their religious beliefs, political views, or sexual orientation; other people get estranged from their parents as a result of influence from a third party, such as a dominating or abusive spouse.

Why Is It So Difficult to Mourn the Death of a Living Parent?

Grief is tough in and of itself, but grieving for someone who is still alive—especially a parent—adds another layer of complexity. “Grieving the loss of a parent who is still alive is hard because the loss of a parent can be confused, upsetting, or hard to deal with,” says GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor at PsychPoint. It can bring on emotions of loneliness, worthlessness, and embarrassment. Guarino claims that guilt is another typical human feeling.

“Grieving for a parent who has left the family is especially hard because our society is quick to blame the child for the breakup,” says Kara Nassour, a licensed professional counselor at Shaded Bough Counseling in Austin, Texas. “Strangers who don’t realize the complexity of our connections often say things like, ‘When was the last time you called your mother?’ or ‘I’m sure they genuinely love you after all.’ Adult children rarely completely cut off communication with their parents.”

This form of loss is especially challenging because it is often disregarded as a loss. This is a serious and tragic loss that must not be dismissed.

Not everyone will share this opinion, of course. For some, isolation is a welcome relief; for others, it’s a source of strength. Peace and contentment accompany their acceptance of the “loss.” It’s fine and normal to feel as you feel at this moment.

How Should One Tackle the Problem of Distancing Oneself from a Parent or Other Close Relative?

If you are grieving a parent who is still alive and well, know that you are not alone. It’s not easy, regardless of who started the estrangement. Extreme and overwhelmingly powerful emotions are possible. However, you can rely on others to get you through it. Nassour advises seeking out the company and solace of others.

Get in touch with individuals who will listen to you without passing judgment, such as friends, family, and support groups. Counseling and therapy can help, as can reading about other people’s experiences with parents who have mental health difficulties, including addiction, abuse, or personality disorders. Going through a bad patch can help to have someone you can confide in.

You can also do other things, of course. Nassour suggests using your parents as a rehearsal ground for setting and enforcing healthy boundaries. These must be tailored to fit (and safeguard) your requirements. In addition, they should be direct and unwavering. You can and should remind yourself that you are not in charge of your parents. Both of them have reached adulthood. In any case, you have zero say in the matter. You must also learn to recognize your emotions and agree that you are exactly where you should be. There is no linear progression through grief. There’s no “correct” way to deal with a tragedy like this.

Allow yourself to experience everything you feel, whether it’s sadness, irritation, shame, or relief. Feelings like those do not make you a horrible person. You’re just a normal person who needs some space to mend.

You must give yourself time to grieve and experience your emotions. Feeling whatever you feel about the circumstance is acceptable since your feelings are real.

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