Death is an inevitable part of life everyone must learn to accept. The death of a parent can be a traumatic experience at any age. Enjoy the life you have with your parents by focusing on the positive and the present.
Why People Fear the Death of a Parent
There are many reasons people fear the death of a parent. Each individual and relationship is different and each person has unique reasons for this fear. Worry about the loss of a loved one is a normal and common experience. Having a clear understanding of why you hold this fear can help you overcome it.
People With a Healthy Parent-Child Relationship
Losing someone you love is never easy. You may feel a variety of emotions related to how death will feel for a parent and what will happen to you when they are gone. People who have close, healthy relationships with parents hold different fears related to the death of a parent. Articulating the exact nature of your fears can give you a point to focus on when working to overcome those fears.
- Pain and suffering: Having never experienced death, you may be concerned about how your parent will feel physically when she dies.
- Loss of unrecorded history: Your parents know everything about you and your life as well as the history of your entire family. If all this information has not been written down, it will be lost with your parent.
- A broken bond: The parent-child bond is one of the strongest you will have in your lifetime. When a parent dies, this bond is lost and can't be replaced.
- The loss for your children: In thinking about the death of a parent, people grieve the time their children will miss with a grandparent.
- A reality check for your mortality: As your parents' age and death seem closer than ever, it can force you to think about your mortality.
People With Unresolved Parent-Child Conflict
Some people experience conflicts with parents early in life that carry over through the years. Facing the death of a parent with whom you have a contentious relationship can weigh heavy on your heart. A person in this situation may fear the death of a parent for different reasons than someone who has a positive relationship with his parents.
- Unfinished business: If you have not or cannot resolve past issues before a parent dies, you may carry that burden forever.
- Grief for an impossible future: Once a parent is gone, you can no longer hope for better times together. You may find yourself thinking often about what can never be.
- Making major decisions: You may feel ill-equipped to make decisions about your parents' wishes regarding burial and estate planning.
- Potential loss of family: A conflicted relationship with your parent could translate to other family relationship issues. Upon the death of your parent, you may no longer have a tie to other family members.
- Heightened self-awareness: Facing the death of a parent in this situation can cause you to evaluate who you are and what you believe in.
Discovering what motivates your fear can help you find peace. If you can work toward resolving the conflict, great. If not, you can work toward accepting the situation.
While your fear of a parent dying may seem debilitating, it is treatable says HelpGuide.org. There are many techniques you can try to overcome a fear.
Work towards acceptance with self-talk. Focusing your thoughts and redirecting negative energy within your mind can help alleviate fears. Self-talk usually occurs inside your head, but you can speak out loud if it is more helpful. When worry sets in, remind yourself that death is natural and will happen to everyone at some point. If you find yourself thinking in a negative way, search for the silver lining and tell yourself it will be okay.
You are only guaranteed this moment in life, so make the most of it. Cherish the times you have with your parents instead of worrying about the time you won't have. When you spend time with a parent, something as simple as holding hands while you talk can keep you in the present. Set your focus to the conversation or activity at hand.
Breathing exercises can also help you create a peace in your body that allows enjoyment of the moment. When you begin to worry, stop and take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly and repeat a few times.
Focus on Fun
Spend time having fun with your parent to keep a positive attitude. While it is important to help with household chores and doctor appointments, enjoying each other's company is also valuable. Set up weekly family game nights or monthly mother/daughter dates to make fun a priority.
Taking walks down memory lane can also help you focus on the positive. Use visualization techniques such as recalling a fond memory with your parent when worry sets in. Creating scrapbooks, photo books, and memory journals can help you revisit the past and provide a way to share these memories with others.
Stress can heighten fear, which in turn can create more stress. Reduce stress by engaging in a healthy lifestyle that involves eating well, having an active social life, and participating in relaxing activities like yoga. Engaging in stress relief activities with your parent or as a family can help everyone be calmer while also bonding.
Face Your Fears
Face the fear head-on by taking it one step at a time. Start by challenging negative thoughts in four simple steps like the example below.
- Write down the negative things you say to yourself regarding the death of a parent. For example, if you are an only child who already lost your mom you might think, "If my dad dies, I will be alone for the rest of my life."
- Look for evidence that contradicts those statements. For example, you will not be alone forever, you have a husband and children who love you.
- Come up with ways to resolve the situation. Schedule regular social outings with friends, make date nights a priority with your husband, find a shared activity to complete with your children. When you feel more connected to others your fear of being alone can diminish.
- Consider what advice you might give a friend with the same way of thinking. If your best friend shared this fear you might list all the people in his life that will keep him from being lonely. Take the positive advice you would give a friend and apply it to your situation.
For more complex fears, it may be helpful to create a fear ladder. In this type of exercise, you break your fear down into small steps and overcome each piece one at a time.
When to Seek Professional Help
If your fear is preventing you from living life in a normal and enjoyable way, it's time to get professional help. The experts at ePsyclinic add that excessive worry can cause anxiety and depression, both of which require help from a therapist. If you are experiencing any of the following issues, look for professional help from a counselor or therapist.
- Your daily life is negatively impacted by fear.
- You have big reactions to every small health issue your parent faces.
- The symptoms of anxiety (heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or sleep issues) are uncontrollable.
Preparing for the Death of a Parent
Once you have accepted that your parents will die someday, you can begin preparing yourself for that time. Strengthening your bond with a parent using simple gestures can help you feel more comfortable with their death.
- Offer to help in any way they accept.
- Tell them often that you love them.
- Make time to spend together on a regular basis.
- Show you love them with simple gestures like regular phone calls.
- Let them know you appreciate all they have been and done in your life.
Use your worry as motivation to be present and enjoy the time you have left together. Work with your parents to be proactive about health, home life changes, and managing emotions to connect on a deeper level.
Excessive worry about the death of a parent can prevent you from enjoying the life that is left. Take care of yourself, your parent, and your relationship while you still have the chance. The death of a parent is never easy, but finding healthy ways to cope with this reality will benefit you and your parent in the long run.