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Mourning our parents: How can we overcome that loss?

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How to grieve a mother or father who has played such a profound role in who we are.

Many have seen their parents taken away by the COVID 19 virus. How do we survive the loss of a father or mother when an intimate part of ourselves has disappeared along with this dearly loved person?

Forty-seven-year-old Xavier has just lost his father. He knew the inevitable end to a long illness was coming and he felt prepared. Yet, “I didn’t think it would be so hard,” he confesses. Sophie Poupard-Bonnet, a coach who specializes in accompanying families in mourning, has heard of many similar cases. “The mourning process can be quite long and have repercussions in one’s professional and family life. And it can reappear years later.”

When a father or mother dies, “the adult son or daughter will go through the classic stages of mourning; but there are additional issues here that we should understand, since sometimes they are confused by how intensely they feel the death of a parent,” explains Christophe Fauré, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. Whether the feeling is calm, stormy, or painful, it is not always predictable. “I thought Dad’s death would be terrible, because I was very fond of him, and we were very close,” says Delphine, the oldest of four children. “But it wasn’t like that at all.”

Time for tears and longing

When we lose a loved one, the sadness is often multiplied. We suffer for ourselves, for others, and for the deceased. For us, it is a time for tears and longing. In Marie’s experience: “For months, I kept thinking about calling Mom on the phone, but then I would remember that I couldn’t anymore.”

Whether or not it was expected, dealt with calmly or dramatically, death always brings doubts. According to Sophie Poupard-Bonnet: “It often makes us question our beliefs, our philosophy, the relationship we have with our family.” When our parents are no longer here with us, we come to feel that we are now “next in line.” This also makes us feel fragile, because the emotional, and sometimes material, security that was provided by our parents is gone. 

According to psychologist Daniel Desbois, “death reveals a lot about both the deceased, and the survivor.” He adds, “We see what we lack, we realize that we depended on that person.” Death sheds light on the bond that connected the person to his or her parent. “Very often there are feelings of remorse for not having forgiven a deceased parent or, for example, feelings of guilt for not having been with them to the end.” Feeling at peace about the relationship, being conscious of what was missing, overcoming the frustrations that even the best parents in the world make their children feel, asking for the grace of forgiveness lets us be at peace and sever the bond. 

A shock wave for the whole family

Marion suddenly lost her mother when she was 21 years old: “She was the rock of the family. After she died, the family shattered into pieces.” Unfortunately, this often happens when the inheritance process does not go well. Not only does it undermine family unity, but the tension it causes between the heirs blocks their process of mourning.

In other cases, the death of a parent can bring brothers and sisters closer together. Alexander lost both his parents within a space of two years: “I felt that I was sharing my suffering with my siblings. That also put us on the road to conversion. Thanks to the things we read together and some truly profound conversations, we simultaneously came to understand the essential elements of Christian faith (giving ourselves over to God’s will, for example). We experienced totally amazing moments of communion. I believe that it was a gift left to us by our parents.”

When the grandparents are still there, the bond between the grandchildren remains. But, when they die, that can change.

How can we help the souls of our deceased parents?

From a spiritual point of view, a person in mourning can also be sad for their mother or father and worry about their fate. “Sometimes it is hard to apply Christian hope with our deceased,” confirms Elizabeth. “That forces us to reflect on the mercy of the Lord and confide in Him.” Specifically, suggests Daniel Desbois, “we can steadfastly pray for them, organize Masses, and ask the Lord to bless them wherever they are.”

Mourning eventually comes to an end, though we will always miss those we have loved. “Sadness is a phase, not a state,” explains the psychologist. “If we see that we cannot get past it, if we start to have difficulties in everyday life, it is important to have someone there that you can count on.” Clinging to the past, to unresolved conflicts, impedes us from finding happiness in the present. It is good to remember the happy times you had with your parents, and to give thanks for the person that you have become.

Bénédicte de Saint-Germain

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