What to Expect When You Lose a Parent in Your 20s

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Losing a parent in your 20s can feel like the foundation of your life has crumbled. Grieving the loss of a parent at any age can be mired in difficulties, but even more so when you are in your 20s. You’re still learning to navigate life, and you have yet to develop fully as an adult. This is a period of transition where you go from being a dependent teenager to becoming an independent adult. 

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Most young people in their 20s rely on their parents for support in one way or another. When you lose your support system at a young age, it leaves you to figure certain things out on your own. Some young adults may have another member of their extended family step in, while others struggle to make their way through life.

Loss, grief, and mourning affects everyone in different ways regardless of age. But those in their 20s face a unique set of difficulties relating to their emotional and financial wellbeing. Losing a parent at this age may mean missing a lifetime of love, guidance, and support from them. Below are some tips to help you if you have suffered the loss of a parent in your 20s.

Allow Yourself Time to Grieve

Most young adults have yet to experience loss at any level. When you lose a parent at a young age, you'll suffer through emotions that are unfamiliar to you. Though you may have seen others manage their own grief at the loss of a loved one, it may be that no one has talked to you about death, loss, and suffering. 

Understand that losing a parent is a major life-changing event where you may experience a profound sense of sadness. This is regardless of whether you had a close bond with your parent who has died, or if you rarely ever saw them.

There are ways in which we grieve called the stages of grief, which you may know as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You should expect changes in your mood related to these stages, and know that not everyone experiences grief in this order.

You may even feel devoid of any emotion. Many describe this as a feeling of emptiness inside. If this happens to you, permit yourself to go through the grieving process. Grieving can typically last anywhere from six months to four years.

Find yourself a good therapist

After the funeral and the shock of death has worn off, you will discover that most people go on about their lives. Things go back to normal for everyone else except for those most closely affected by the death. This may leave you feeling angry and confused, and you may not understand why people have moved on. 

Finding a good therapist who can listen and offer sound advice can make the grieving process more manageable. Nothing anyone can say will take away the pain of losing your loved one. However, opening up to your therapist may make the process easier. You can ask your therapist to set a treatment schedule so that there is a beginning and an end to your care plan.

Coping with grief of the surviving parent

Besides coping with your grief, you may need to support your surviving parent through theirs. Some people who suffer the loss of a spouse become emotionally unavailable to their children. Expect this to be a natural reaction and allow them time to process their grief and mourn their loss, much like yours.

You may have the added responsibility of caring for younger siblings, and/or also have to look after the household for a few days or weeks. There’s also the possibility that if your surviving parent fails to do so, you will need to take care of the important end of life matters. This may include making funeral arrangements, notifying family and friends of the death, and tying up any loose ends.

You mustn’t hide your grief to protect your surviving parent. Permit yourself to express how you are feeling, whether it’s sadness, fear, anger, guilt, or relief. You may feel that your loved one is not strong enough to carry the added weight of your grief but tell them anyway.

Make a Plan

At this point, the shock of your parent's death is beginning to wear off some. After allowing enough time to pass, open up a dialogue with your surviving parent about end-of-life planning in the event of their unexpected death.

You may want to discuss having medical directives in place, having a lawyer draft a last will and testament, and making advance funeral arrangements or purchasing final expense life insurance.

Consider discussing who will take care of younger children if the other parent dies. You may also want to discuss finances.

Determine who will pay for the maintenance, taxes, and expenses for the household. Ask questions to determine if there are enough assets to cover these expenses. If not, is there an insurance policy in place? Who's the primary beneficiary? Who's the secondary beneficiary?

Medical directive 

A medical directive, also known as an advance healthcare directive, is a collection of legal documents consisting of a living will and a medical power of attorney. Help your surviving parent sort this out alongside you.

If you are unable to make healthcare decisions due to illness, accident, or disability, these directives communicate your medical care and end-of-life decisions for you. You can even appoint a health care surrogate to make these decisions for you if you so desire.

Join a Grief Support Group

Joining a support group may help you network with other people who have also experienced a death. There may be some comfort in talking to others who share this experience with you. Seek out support groups for your age group.

You will never get over the death of your loved one. It becomes a part of your life. Through time and mutual support, your grief will lessen. Gradually you will find a new normal in coping with grief.

Coping with your grief

Many people have never experienced seeking therapy to help cope with their grief. If this concept is new to you and you don't know what to expect, there are many books available on the subject.

Visit your local library and ask the librarian to guide you to the appropriate section. Familiarize yourself with the process so that you are comfortable when interviewing therapists. 

Know that you are not required to choose the first therapist that you see. If you are uncomfortable with their services for any reason, it's completely acceptable to switch from one therapist to the next. Below are some of the basic tips to help guide your coping:

  • Allow yourself permission to grieve
  • Acknowledge your grief
  • Allow yourself time to go through the grieving process 
  • Read books on how to grieve
  • Learn about the five stages of grief
  • Find a good therapist
  • Make a plan
  • Join a grief support group
  • Talk to your friends and family
  • Ask for support when needed
  • Seek medical attention if you are feeling suicidal, or are abusing drugs or alcohol to deal with your grief

Reach Out to Your Extended Family and Ask for Support

You can remind your family that you are still grieving, and that talking about your loved one who has died helps to ease your grief and suffering. Initiate the conversation about your loved one when you feel the need to talk or to be heard. It may be uncomfortable at first, but the awkwardness will lend its way to a meaningful conversation. 

You may need to teach others ways in which to support you. Speak to your friends and family with patience, love, and kindness.

Be direct in asking for what you need and specific when telling them what you are feeling or going through. Your family wants to be there for you. Help them to help you by reaching out to them and having candid and open conversations.

Create a new life

After the initial roller coaster of emotions and as your grieving process is well underway, you will find that your life is falling back into a new normal. Your grief will have subsided some, you may have returned to school or work, and now it's time to give new meaning to your life. 

There are many ways in which to create a new meaning and purpose for yourself. You can explore a new hobby, go back to school, start a new career or business. You can ease your way back into the society you left behind by reaching out to your friends and relatives.

In addition, you can even find a new circle of friends who may better understand you now that you have experienced loss.

If you are single, you can start dating again. Join local interest groups to meet other like-minded singles in your area. Rekindle an old romance. Volunteer. Try something new. There are many ways in which to create a new life for yourself. All it takes is getting out there and trying new things.

Losing Your Parent in Your 20s

Losing your parents in your 20s can be difficult for most young adults. Your life takes on a new meaning and your responsibilities seem to change overnight. You counted on your parents to be there to offer love and support until you became an adult. But now things have changed. 

All the plans for your future — the college graduation, your wedding day, the birth of your first child — all seem to be in the past. You can no longer pick up the phone and call for advice, or hear your loved one's voice on the other end. These simple everyday things no longer exist for you. 

But it will all soon pass — the overwhelming sense of loss, shock, and denial. Before you realize, you can start living in the present and letting go of the past.