When my father passed away due to the progression of his Parkinson's disease, it was a difficult time—a time of grief and loss, a time of sorrow and pain. Yet, it wasn't the beginning of the grieving process.
The grieving process had probably started a couple of years earlier when he had a major "dip" in his health, and we thought we were going to lose him. He got better, though never quite as good as before, and I tucked the grief away in the back of my mind.
It came out in June two years later. He again had a major health scare, and though he got a bit better, he decided it was time to accept my offer of moving in with me. My home is big and was built with this possibility in mind and our multigenerational family worked well together. Yet his health never quite returned and in November, he was placed in hospice. That's when the real grieving started, although there wasn't much time for it. Between helping my mom care for my dad and helping one of my daughters with a difficult pregnancy, I was on the run constantly. For me, prayer, meditation on Bible verses and occasional brisk walks were a major help in getting me through this difficult season of life.
We made sure all his family and friends knew about his health situation, and we worked out ways for all who wanted to come and visit while still protecting him in his frailty. We oversaw short visits and long rests, and we enjoyed taking turns visiting with all who came. This was a big help to my mom and me, of having that loving support during this difficult time.
By the time my father went to be with the Lord, he had faded so much and had such a difficult time, we knew he was so much better off that we couldn't wish him back no matter how much we missed him. That was actually a help to us; as hard as it was to go through hospice, it helped all of us through the grieving process. It gave everyone a chance to visit one more time and enjoy seeing his look of delight shine through the Parkinson’s mask his face usually wore.
After my dad was gone, I turned to GriefShare.org, which had been such a help to me when I lost my husband a couple of years earlier. Their daily emails helped me as I worked through the grieving process. I've recommended them to several loved ones, as well as on my blog, and continually hear how their emails have encouraged others.
I also made sure that my mom and I kept talking about my dad to each other, to the kids and the grandkids. This was as much for our sakes as theirs. We wanted to share his loving legacy with them and we wanted to keep remembering him with love. I think that treasuring special fun traditions can be a big help as well.
I remember the first time my mom and I spotted a penny on the ground. It thrilled my dad to find a coin on the ground. He collected them for years. Even after he quit his official coin collection, he never could pass a coin of any kind without picking it up and sharing it with whoever was with him. When we saw that penny, I told my mom it was a hug from dad. You should have seen her smile. We have continued that sweet tradition to this day— almost 10 years later.
Some other tips to help you deal with this grief you may be feeling for a lost parent:
- Know that grief is normal
- Give yourself permission to cry
- Give yourself permission to not cry
- Give yourself permission to grieve as you prefer to grieve
A support group can be an excellent help for many. You can find one through GriefShare.org, through your church or through a local hospice group, even if your loved one did not go through hospice. The HospiceFoundation.org has a few other suggestions as well.
Realize that if your grief has turned into a debilitating depression, including thoughts of self-harm, you should seek out professional help immediately.
There are no guarantees in life. But I can tell you that—from my own experience, and that of so many whom I've talked to over the years— the grieving process becomes easier. Not fast, not necessarily easy, but as the years went by, each year was a little better. My mom and I both still miss my dad very much, but we enjoy talking about him with the grandkids, picking up those "penny hugs" from him and looking at his photos. We still mist up on occasion, but for the most part, we are doing well.
Written by senior living writer Kaye Swain