Losing both parents close together can bring on an overwhelming amount of grief. You may still be grieving the loss of one parent when your other parent dies. When they both die close together, it may likely produce different types of grief that can affect you in unexpected ways. Knowing how to cope with these losses will help you as you begin to understand how their deaths will impact your life.
Adult children who lose their parents within a short time are likely to experience compounded grief. This type of grief is when losses are layered one after another and in close proximity. Dealing with compounded grief is a bit more challenging than normal grief. The guide below may help you figure out your next steps in what to do when both your parents die.
1. Learn About the Grief Process
Losing both of your parents in succession can catch you emotionally off-guard. Various factors will determine how much and how long you’ll grieve over their deaths. Most adult children expect that their parents will die as they age. What they don’t normally consider is how losing both parents within a short time can affect their emotional and psychological well-being.
When this happens, you can expect to feel any combination of the following:
Soon after losing both your parents, you may also begin to feel the loss of their companionship, love, and support. This loss can compound as any grief process may take several months and up to two years for it to resolve. Your grief over the death of one parent may not yet be back to fully manageable levels when you lose the other. Overall you can expect to start feeling better after six months to one year from the time of death.
Successive deaths such as these are not uncommon in older people, especially if they were still married to one another at the time of death. Heartbreak and sorrow are known to accelerate the death of the surviving spouse after they’ve suffered the loss of their lifelong companion.
The 5 stages of grief you can expect to go through are:
- Denial. This is the first stage of grief. When you first get the news of your parents’ death, it may be hard to accept that they’re both gone. You’ll suffer greater if, for example, you’ve just lost your mom and then you get the news that your dad died as well.
- Anger. This is an expected emotional reaction to death during the first stages of grief. You may go through ups and downs as you process your parents’ deaths. With time, your anger may lessen.
- Bargaining. Making deals and questioning why this had to happen to you are signs that you are progressing through the expected stages of the grieving process.
- Depression. The difference between feeling sad and being depressed is often a fine line. Depression is a chronic sadness that won’t go away with time, but sadness can start to lift within the first three to six months.
- Acceptance. The ability to move forward in life and move past your grief is a sign of healing. Accepting the loss of your parents allows you to move forward from your grief.
There is no time limit for any of these stages, and you may not suffer them in this order. Some people will skip over some or all of these stages. These are only guidelines of what you could expect as you go through the grief process.
2. Take Time to Heal
The loss of both of your parents may take a while to sink in. Weeks or a couple months may pass by before the numbness wears off and you start to feel the full effects of your loss. It’s not at all unusual to go through an entire year in a state of numbness and disbelief.
Allowing yourself adequate time to process their deaths and for healing from your grief can help you as you learn to accept that you no longer have your parents there to guide, love, and support you as you once did.
You can practice self-care in many ways while also making space for yourself to heal. These are a few examples of ways you can engage in self-care:
- Maintaining your normal routines
- Getting an adequate amount of rest
- Taking in proper hydration and nutrition
- Practicing good hygiene
- Exercising your body and mind
- Engaging with others as you sort through your emotions
- Seeking help when needed
- Letting go of the need to be stoic
- Letting out your emotions
- Allowing yourself to be vulnerable
3. Grow Your New Identity
One of the things you may find yourself struggling with is your new identity. After losing both of your parents, you may find it difficult to accept that you’re now orphaned. For example, you might have stronger feelings of being left alone in this world, feeling as if you have no one to turn to for support and advice, and sensing your own mortality or as if you’re “next” to die.
Most people begin taking stock of their mortality soon after losing both of their parents especially as a result of old age. Know that grief makes you more vulnerable to mortality and may have contributed to both of your parents dying so close to one another. This doesn’t mean that because they’ve both died now you're immediately next.
To help alleviate some of the anxiety and uncertainty of how to move forward now that you no longer have parents, try reading books on grief to help you deal with these thoughts and emotions.
4. Enhance Your Support Circle
When you don’t know what to say when someone dies, it can feel easier to not say anything at all. When this happens, sometimes families fall apart. Keeping the family together after losing both parents may be challenging, but finding reasons and ways to continue seeing each other will help to keep your family bond strong.
When parents die it’s not uncommon for siblings to grow apart. This isn’t always a result of estrangement due to infighting or other conflicts. It can simply be because your parents are no longer there to hold the family together. When people get involved in living their busy lives, they may not find the time to include others or to make them a part of it.
Consider growing your circle of support to include your siblings or family that may have become estranged following your parents’ deaths. This may help you feel less alone and more secure when you’re a part of a supportive family.
Your circle of support becomes increasingly more important after suffering the loss of your parents. Your siblings are more likely to understand your pain and suffering and may be able to offer you love and encouragement as you cope with your grief.
5. Understand Your Emotions
You likely never expected to lose both of your parents so close together. When it happens, you might not understand why you’re feeling the way you are. Maybe you’ve always thought of yourself as the strong and stoic one in the family. The one able to handle matters quickly and efficiently without succumbing to emotion.
Then all of a sudden you're overcome with overwhelming grief that you can’t control. You may find that this happens to you when it sinks in that your parents are no longer there for you to turn to. Your mother is no longer there to comfort you, and you can no longer turn to your father for his advice.
Sometimes feelings of guilt will overtake you. You may find yourself going over in your head all the details of your parents’ death. You may start blaming yourself for the things you did and didn’t do while they were still alive.
All these feelings are a normal part of the grieving process as mentioned above. Try not to be so hard on yourself when it comes to finding blame for things that you could’ve done better or you should’ve taken care of for your parents. Focus on the positive things that you did to show them that you loved and cared for them. Make a written list and stick it in your wallet to help remind you when you’re too consumed in your grief to remember.
6. Honor Your Parents Life
When you honor your parents’ lives, you help bring closure and acceptance to the grieving process. You can honor your parents in ways that make sense to you.
Aside from the usual memorial services and gifts purchased in remembrance, you can honor your parents’ lives by being a better version of yourself. Continuing to become the person that would’ve made your parents proud while staying true to yourself is a great way to start.
7. Move Forward
The feelings of intense grief and sorrow can eventually lift and you’ll soon find yourself feeling better. It may be difficult to recognize when this happens, but in time you’ll find yourself easing back into your old routine.
You'll start doing the things you used to enjoy and learning to live your life without your parents around. However, it is important to remember that moving forward doesn't mean forgetting. It’s okay for you to move past your grief and start living your life again.
Losing Both Parents Back to Back
Suffering the loss of both of your parents one after the other will likely leave you at a loss of what to do when someone dies.
Take each day as it comes and work through your pain and sorrow a little bit each day. In time, you’ll find that your pain will begin to ease and your healing will begin.