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.
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.
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/)