Terrible losses happen every day to people all over. The loss of an entire family can be one of those lonely and heartbreaking experiences, especially for older adults without a family to look after them as they age or young children who've been left orphaned.
Although grief is different for everyone, losing your entire family at any age can bring about the pain of suffering such a significant loss. However, there is also the shared experience that may help you to connect to others who've also lost their entire families.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Might It Feel Like to Be the Last Surviving Member of Your Family?
- How Can You Cope With Losing Your Whole Family?
- How Can You Make Sure You Have Support After Losing Your Family?
Becoming the last living member of your family when your bloodline ends with you is one of those times when you might feel the magnitude of the remaining emptiness. Coping with this type of grief is challenging, and most people will be in need of the added comfort, strength, and support of their friends and communities in enduring the often painful realization that they're the last ones left.
What Might It Feel Like to Be the Last Surviving Member of Your Family?
Losing your entire family can leave you feeling empty, alone, and abandoned. These are all very familiar feelings that accompany the death of your last living family members. When your family's bloodline ends with you, you can expect to experience the fear of having no safety net, no one to call on when you need help, or someone to talk to to get advice on life's major decisions.
Not having the love and support of your blood relatives might feel like there's no one to lean on in times of need. You might feel the crumbling effect of your support system that's fallen apart as the last of your family members die, causing you to retreat into the darkest part of yourself. Depending on the type of grief you're suffering, it's not unusual to lose trust in the people around you and yourself.
When your family dies, you tend to lose confidence and self-worth as there may be no one left to guide you and defend you when life gets tough. The feelings of abandonment and being left behind precipitate the fear of being entirely alone, bringing on some or all of the five stages of grief - shock, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.
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How Can You Cope With Losing Your Whole Family?
Discussing your feelings helps you cope and move forward when your last parent dies or when you’re the only person left alive in your family. Feeling lost or that your entire life's been surrounded by losses is a natural part of the grieving process. To help you deal through this painful time in your life, try to be open to receiving help from friends and professionals so you can begin to rebuild your life.
You can expect yourself to start searching for a new identity, confidence, and fulfillment in your life after loss. The coping mechanisms below can help you after suffering through this type of significant loss.
Have compassion for yourself
When overcoming the sorrow of losing your family, having self-compassion entails loving yourself while understanding your emotions as you suffer through your grief. Finding ways to overcome your pain, acknowledge, and understand your feelings are also a part of having compassion for oneself.
You may want to ignore the pain and suffering accompanying the trauma of losing your entire family, but it becomes more unhealthy and painful to do so. For healthy healing, focus on working through your grief to lower your stress, change limiting thoughts, and curtail destructive behaviors.
Leave a lasting legacy
When you're the last surviving member of your family, you can expect to feel some pressure to leave a legacy that'll carry on the family name. After each family member's death, their contribution to the family, community, and the people and causes they cared about lives on in the memories of those they've touched.
There's no obligation for you to enhance the legacy of your family's name. When figuring out how you want people to remember you, consider that the keys to leaving a lasting impression on others begin with being true to yourself and the causes closest to your heart.
Become the best version of yourself
Living an extraordinary life isn't reserved strictly for the bold and adventurous. You can live a life after loss full of personal meaning that best aligns with the person you are or want to become.
When the sole remaining survivors in a family take stock of their position in life, they sometimes feel as if they have to live life to the extremes to make a lasting impact on their family's legacy. However, maximizing personal growth can be as subtle as picking up a new hobby, traveling, or learning something new despite the pain and sorrow caused by loss.
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Create a new family
You might've expected to grow old alongside your siblings or have your parents live a long life, only to find that everyone died either before their time or in sudden and unexpected ways. When you're the last living member of your family, your existence can become lonely.
Reconnect with old friends or make new ones if you don't have any to create a new family to fill in the void your family left behind. Even if the people you have in your life right now are strangers, in the beginning, open up and share your experiences with them to let them in to create a genuine bond.
Find a good therapist
An experienced grief counselor or therapist will understand the depths of your loss and guide you to a new way of thinking and looking at life. Realize that not everyone you talk to will empathize with your situation, and even some therapists might not understand what you're going through, especially if you're older.
They might expect that the older you are, the death of your family members isn't such an unusual occurrence to create such an adverse grief reaction. Seek a grief counselor who'll help you make sense of your loss so that you can move forward with your life in the best and healthiest way possible.
How Can You Make Sure You Have Support After Losing Your Family?
After losing your family, finding the support you need takes authentic self-discovery, meaning-making, courage, and determination. To find yourself after suffering through such a devastating loss, you'll need to turn away from any negative distractions. These can include some false beliefs that contribute to feelings of wanting to withdraw and isolate yourself from others. Here are some survival tips.
Build your tribe
Being the last person alive in your family can feel intimidating and a bit scary. In times of need, not having anyone to turn to can send you into panic mode. When you’re the last member standing after losing your family, it’s essential to build or fortify your tribe.
Whether it’s friends from work, school, or your community, building a solid core of people you can count on can be a lifesaver. It can make all the difference especially when you need someone to support you through rough times. As friendships can take a long time to cultivate, you’ll want to start making new friends before you need someone to turn to.
Stay connected to friends
Finding the time to connect with your friends can sometimes seem impossible and present a challenge, especially during moments of isolation and social distancing. Time seems to escape even the most well-intentioned people who strive to nourish the relationships they have.
To help you stay connected, try scheduling regular phone calls or times where you meet in person with your friends so that you can keep your connections strong. Other ways to fortify your relationships include:
- Inviting friends over for dinner
- Making regular phone calls
- Scheduling virtual meetings
Reach out for help
Surviving without family support can seem daunting and even hopeless at times. If you're used to your family always being there to help you, and you suddenly face no one left to call on, there's still hope. You can start by reaching out to members of your community to see who can help meet your immediate needs.
Many local groups focus on assisting individuals within their communities. Narrow down your options by clarifying the type of assistance needed and reaching out to several groups or organizations aligned with those causes.
Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people near you. Consider helping distribute food at the local food back to families in need or building housing for the homeless through organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
There are many great ways you can give of yourself and your time that’ll help align you with people who love to help and that you can call on if you ever need anything. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you’re all alone in this world or to show your vulnerabilities.
Expand your connections
Losing your family can make you feel withdrawn and isolated. Loneliness can start to creep up when no one in your family is around to talk or hang out with, especially around the holidays and other special occasions.
Before you’re genuinely lonely, make some critical changes to your life that place you in a position to meet new people. You can start by getting a new job, joining an online group with shared interests, or becoming a local book club or gym member. The more people you invite into your life, the less scary it’ll be when you need the added comfort and support of others.
When All Your Family’s Gone
No doubt, it’s lonely without your loved ones, and life can feel empty when you’re the last remaining family member alive. While it’s normal to feel alone, take care not to fall victim to reclusiveness.
Continue living your life and allow the memories of your loved ones to carry you through your grief. In time, you’ll work through your loss, finding ways to cope with your new existence and learning what steps you’ll need to take next to heal from the pain of your loss.