Dear Dr. Neimeyer,
What are the effects from parents who have passed away? Mine both had cancers and they both passed away a year and a half apart. It has caused me a lot of grieving, crying, a lot loss of memory, forgetfulness, anger and not wanting too move on. It’s been very hard for me. I am the youngest out of the four, and they say the youngest one takes it the hardest. It is true. I still can’t move on.
The death of a parent—much less both parents in quick succession—can be uniquely difficult, as we may lose that special sense of a “secure base” in a relation with those who may have loved us well for our entire lives. No one again will ever know us as they did, nurture us through our tender years, take pride in growth and development, and in the end, perhaps also accept our caregiving of them as an extension of that same bond of love. Some research suggests that such a bond may be particularly intimate for the “baby” of the family, whose last position in the birth order can lead parents to take special delight in his or her birth or life.
And yet, part of the pain such loss brings may come from how we approach bereavement. When we view it merely as loss, the abject absence of loved ones, and feel the press to “move on” in a way that implies leaving them behind, our hearts logically resist this requirement. On the other hand, when we ask ourselves, “How can I continue to live my love for my parents now, in their physical absence? What do they now require of me? How can I help keep their stories alive?”, we can view their long and strong participation in our lives as sources of inspiration, and their place in our hearts and in our lives with others as a continuing resource. As loving beings, how did your parents move forward themselves following the death of their parents—your grandparents? Every generation learns and re-learns this lesson: How do we redefine connection to those who have gone before, as we live deeply and meaningfully with those now living beside us, in a way that prepares for those who will come after? Suffering is a part of this lesson, but so too is embracing its significance.