Losing a Parent, Spouse, or Child
Not all losses are the same. Feelings of grief may depend on your relationship with the person.

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Picture of woman consoling a girl Losing a Parent, Spouse, or Child

The loss of someone close can change your life forever. Getting through each day can be a challenge. People tell you that things get better with time, so you pray for time to pass quickly. But despite the hole in your heart, it is possible to bring yourself some comfort and to make each day a little more bearable. Start with these suggestions:

When a parent dies

  • Forgive. Take your time, but try to forgive yourself for being human and your parent for any time he or she may have failed you. If the hurt runs deep, consider getting professional counseling.
  • Write letters. If you feel you never expressed your gratitude when your parent was alive, write a letter to say thanks. Likewise, if you have negative feelings you want to let out, expressing them in a letter can help, too.
  • Treasure fond memories. Collect mementos of your mother or father and put them in a scrapbook. This can be healing for you, and a treasure you can share with family members.

When a spouse dies

  • Postpone unnecessary changes. If possible, wait a while before moving or making a major career change. First allow yourself to grieve and heal. Then you'll have a fresher perspective and more energy to start a new life.
  • Reach out to others. Although you will need time to yourself, share your thoughts and feelings with friends and family when you feel the need.
  • Take time with your spouse's belongings. Don't sort through your spouse's clothes and other belongings right away. Wait until you feel ready.
  • Be adventurous. After you've given yourself time to grieve and heal, let yourself dream. Then follow your heart. Redecorate your home, try a new hobby or explore new places.

When a child dies

  • Talk about your child. Your friends and relatives may not know what to say. They may not want to mention your child out of concern that it may upset you. Talking about your child lets them know that it's OK to do it, too.
  • Don't fight your feelings. Guilt can be a normal part of grief. You may think you were somehow responsible for your child's death. Talk to someone you trust about these feelings. Counseling can be helpful if these thoughts become overwhelming.
  • Sidestep negative thoughts. When a child dies, parents may find themselves replaying their child's death scene in their minds - an emotionally draining process. When unhealthy or self-defeating thoughts occur, tell yourself, "Stop!" while visualizing a large stop sign. Try to focus on more positive, constructive thoughts.
  • Don't forget your other children. They are grieving, too, so give them plenty of love and support.
  • Give of yourself. Doing something for someone in need can help promote healing and well-being.

Finally, if you've lost a loved one and spirituality is important to you, draw from this resource. Times of solitude, inspirational reading, prayer, meditation or community worship may comfort and enlighten you as you confront the mystery of death.

By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer
Created on 10/20/1999
Updated on 06/23/2010
  • National Institute of Aging. Mourning the death of a spouse.
  • National Sudden and Unexpected Infant/Child Death and Pregnancy Loss Resource Center. The death of a child, the grief of the parents: a lifetime journey.
  • Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. GriefWork guides for survival and growth: When a parent dies.
  • The Compassionate Friends. Sudden death of a child.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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