Tag Archive | death of a parent


There is not a lot written on how beavered children form romantic relationships as adults. In the final section of the article we will take a look at behaviors in relationships that can occur due to the loss of a parent during childhood. When a child looses his/her parent the connection between love and loss is no longer separated. “Deep down I believed that all man will eventually leave me.” was wrote by forum user who lost her dad. Research showed that many bereaved children are more hesitant about forming romantic relationships in comparison to their peers. However most adults do find their ways of having a relationship despite the potential loss. Some ways are functional others dysfunctional. Here we will take a look only on the dysfunctions that may occur in a romantic relationship.

I am looking for a unicorn
Some of them are determined to find the love they once knew. They are desperately seeking and are determined to find unconditional love that will heal their inner child. “For some individuals, this search for “all-powerful” love can feel almost desperate. The individual believes not only happiness, but survival itself depends on finding the needed partner. “(Harris, 1995, p.155).
“We lost our father when I was 5 and my brother was 9. He has had very few relationships, while I have found that I was diving from relationship to relationship, hanging on to people who were bad for me – possibly looking to replace the male affection and protection I never received as a little girl without the father.”

I can’t lose you

Many form the relationship but the anxiety of losing somebody is persisting. “After 25 years of marriage I still pay careful attention if my wife will leave me for somebody else or die in a car accident.” People who have experienced the death of a parent early on can be sensitive towards experiencing future loss. They are also less resilient in facing the rejection. 
On the other hand fear of feeling the deep loss again can be controlled by not fully committing in the relationship. They are changing the partners quickly or leaving before they are left.

No love for me
Some don’t pursue romantic relationships at all. Although they can feel the need to be connected to another person they feel terror when they think about getting close to someone. It is also common that they are not able to feel their need for connection or they are denying it. “I don’t need anyone I am better of alone. I feel happy that way.”




In the second article I will explore what an effect can the death of a parent have on our emotional and mental health. Consequences can occur shortly after the death or later in life. It is important to know that psychological effects of a parent’s death can occur long after feelings of grief are behind us and we seem to have adjusted to our lives.  Not everything is due to this one event but we can’t neglect the researches that show higher risk factor of developing disorders associated with a childhood bereavement.

Inner world
Feelings that can occur after the death of the parents also depends on the nature of their death. Sudden, unexpected death, slow death and suicide often arise different kinds of feelings in us. Feelings can continue for a lifetime if not addressed. Many don’t even connect them anymore with the death of the parent, because they got so used to them through the years.

  • Shame can be connected to the suicide death as well as feeling different from other children who have both of their parents.
  • Guilt is often present. We feel responsible for parent’s death although we didn’t have any control over it. Suicidal thoughts can occur because child wishes to reunite with the parent, although these are rarely acted upon.
  • One feeling that is not often talked about is a feeling of relief. That can arise from seeing your parent going through torture due to the disease as well as in cases where the parent was unloving or abusing. Their death brings peace to the child and the family.
  • Some detach form the enormous pain of the loss. They block out the feelings. They numb themselves even with a help of drugs or/and alcohol.
  • Feeling of profound emptiness that can come in waves or we feel it all the time. Some try to fill the emptiness while others accept it as a part of them. “I am filling my emptiness with reading obsessively, my siblings socialized excessively. Nothing bad, just in extremes. But it could as well go really bad because drugs are easily accessible.”
  • Feeling of being rootless and having no solid ground is shared by many.
  • Tendency to control/dominate in relationships. Control can occur due to a fear of loosing someone again. On the other hand others shy away from forming emotionally intimate relationships for the same reason.
  • Idealization of the lost parent. Children invent not only perfect, idealized parent, but also a parent who makes their every wish come true. On the other hand some block out the image of the parent completely or build unrealistic images of them to detach from the painful memories.
  • Adults who have experienced a childhood bereavement sometimes do not expect to live longer than their parent did. Some stop living after that point in their lives and they appear half alive. This connects them to the deceased parent. This dynamic can occur especially when the parent  of the same sex died.

Higher vulnerability

Studies have revealed many negative outcomes associated with a childhood bereavement:

  • Increased likelihood of substance abuse.
  • Higher risk of criminal behavior. Parents are not only mentors but serve as a safe net. They set the boundaries to the child when they are in their experimental phase. In the absence of a parent some children find themselves running wild. They don’t know how to control impulses and moderate behavior. At first the lack of a parent feels like freedom but it soon become overwhelming. Rebellious behavior can include anger, violence, criminal behavior and sexual promiscuity.
  • Academic underachievement and lower employment rates. Almost all kids will have some trouble in school after the death of a parent. But for those already struggling, the crisis can be devastating to their performance. On the other hand child can become driven to over achievement. Keeping themselves extremely busy to avoid painful emotions.

The following factors increase the risk of psychological disorders (anxiety, depression):
-loss occurred before child was 5 years old or during early an adolescence,
-loss of mother for girls before age 11 and loss of father for adolescent boys,
-conflictual relationships with the deceased preceding the death,
-psychologically vulnerable surviving parent who is excessively dependent on the child,
-lack of an adequate family or support by a community (supports),
-unstable, inconsistent environment. Including multiple shifts in caretakers and disruption of familiar routines,
-experience of parental remarriage if there is a negative relationship between the child and the new partner,
-lack of prior knowledge about death,
-unanticipated death (suicide, homicide)(Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK217849/)




In this article we will touch very deep loss-the loss of a parent. It is hard to imagine how deep it cuts if you haven’t experienced it on your own skin. The best comparison I found was a comparison with a mountain climbing. Imagine that it is your first serious climb and you are accompanied by the professional climber. You rely on him with everything. He will show you the way, he will make sure that the way is safe, that you stay hydrated. In the middle of the mountain, your company dies. You are left alone. Chaos! Fear! That is exactly what a child who lost a parent feels. If a parent can disappear forever then nothing is safe and predictable anymore. Experience of the loss brings destruction to the family as a whole which often stops function as such and breaks down to individuals in the family.

Most people remember the day of the loss as being the end of their childhood. It marks a point before and after the life changed drastically. How was your experience like?

There is no universal face of grief. Children watch responses of the surviving parent and learn how they are “suppose to” mourn. “Is it O.K. to cry or I need to be strong and tough?”
The way someone grieves also depends on the age of a child. For example, those under the age of two may show loss of speech, while children under the age of five can respond by eating, sleeping, and urinary disturbance. School-age children may become phobic, preoccupied with body functions, withdrawn, or excessively care-giving. Especially in boys sadness may be replaced by aggression. Adolescents may respond similar to the adults, but they may also be reluctant about expressing their emotions due to the fear of being different.
Children who lost a parent when they were infants can feel absence instead of loss. “I don’t know what a “father” means. When I started school, I remember feeling different from other kids who had a mother and a father. /…/ There were no image (of father), just me, my brother, and my mother.” (Harris, 1995, p.18).
“My oldest brother was 13 when she died, and all he can talk about is what life would have been like if Mom had lived because he knows what life was like with her, he can really miss her. I never had her, so I don’t feel the loss. “(Harris, 1995, p.18).
Grief may continue on and off for many years, although it may get less intensive.

How did you and your family grieve? Did you grieve at all?

What a surviving parent can do for their children?

  • After such a traumatic event the best you can do is to keep child’s routines as regular as possible. That will lessen his anxiety and eventually bring back feeling of stability and security.
It is important for a child to have an adequate information about the death, suitable for their age. They are often afraid that a living parent can die as well. It is important to talk about their fears and reassure them that they are not to blame.
  • It is best to avoid any additional changes, such as moving homes, changing schools. Changes makes parental death significantly more difficult to deal with.
  • Sometimes the child lost not only one parent but has also lost the one who is still alive. They are (understandably) in such a pain themselves that they can’t manage keeping a family together. It is very important for a surviving parent to seek help form the community and/or professional therapist. Some surviving parents can respond to loss with abuse, neglect and anger towards their child. They can also make the child their “partner” or fall in such a deep depression that they withdraw from a child’s world completely.

How was it in your family? How did surviving parent manage to keep the family together in a long run? Did the surviving parent seek help?

Don’t talk about it

In some families the parental loss could not be talked about at all. Children can deliberately hide their feelings in order to protect the surviving parent. In my clinical experiences clients had little space to talk about their loss. Not that it was particular forbidden to talk about it but at the same time the topic was not mentioned because they wanted to save their family form any further pain.
It is essential to go through the painful feelings when grieving. Talk to your child about your feelings and encourage them to express theirs. You can also start some rituals that encourage family members to express their feelings. For example make a family gathering at the grave a yearly event where everybody can express their feelings and remember the deceased. Celebrate their birthdays or visit their favorite restaurant together every couple of months. Create a space where it is O.K. to express emotions about the loss for years to come.

Did you talk about the loss in your family? It is still O.K. to talk about it now as an adult?

-About 4% of children in Western countries experience the death of a parent.
-1 in 9 adults in a survey said they have lost a parent before they were 20 years old.
-40% recall frequently pretending to be O.K. not to upset their surviving parent.
-63% feared their surviving parent would also get sick and die.
Source: Poll by Greenwald & Associates for New York Life Foundation and Comfort Zone Camps.