NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Grief: You Continue to Have a Relationship With Your Parents After They Die

Continuing with the theme of losing both parents from my prior article, Grief: The Emotional Impact of Losing Both Parents, I want to expand on a subject that I began in that article, namely, how you continue to have a relationship with your parents even after they die (see my articles: Coping With the Loss of a Loved One: Common ReactionsGrief in Waiting, and Understanding Your Emotional Needs).

Grief: You Continue to Have a Relationship With Your Parents After They Die

When I refer to continuing to have a relationship with your parents after their deaths, I'm referring to what goes on in your inner world.

Whether you had a great relationship with your parents or whether you had a terrible relationship, you continue to develop your relationship with them in your mind.

Most people feel grief for their parents death whether their relationship was good or not.

If the relationship wasn't good, you grieve for what you never got and for what you'll never get once they're gone.

If the relationship was good, you grieve that they're not in your life any more and you'll never have that again.

There are certain things that you might not have appreciated about your parents and their experiences because of your lack of life experience at the time and the life stage that you were in.

You might remember your parents telling you, "You'll understand this when you're older" and that's often the case.

Often, when you become the age that your parents were, you can look back and usually have a better understanding of them and what they were going through.

Similarly, after both parents die and you go through the grieving process, even though your parents aren't on this Earth any more, you continue to develop your understanding of them and your internal relationship with them.

Fictional Clinical Vignette - Continuing to Have a Relationship With Your Parent After They Die:

Sandy's parents died within a year of each other.

Sandy's parents came to the United States to escape Nazi oppression, leaving their parents and older siblings behind.

Sandy's mother would often talk about the mother and siblings she left behind, showing Sandy their pictures and telling her stories about the family.

When Sandy was younger, she didn't understand why her mother kept telling her the same stories over and over again.  She would get exasperated and think to herself, "Oh no, another story about Aunt Helen."

Now that both of Sandy's parents were gone, Sandy would often look at her parents' pictures and the pictures of relatives who were left in Europe, many of whom died during the Holocaust.

After the loss of both of her parents, Sandy understood why her mother told these stories so often--she missed her family and she was traumatized by their loss.  Sandy now also understood that her mother also felt guilty about leaving her family behind.

In the same way that her mother used to look at those pictures with such grief, Sandy now looked at pictures of her parents with grief.

She wished that her parents were still around.  She had so many questions that she never asked them that she would now like to know.  But parents and anyone else who could have answered these questions were now dead.

Sandy showed her daughter, Nina, pictures of her parents and grandparents, but Nina seemed bored.

Sandy understood that Nina would be bored when Sandy showed her the pictures--much the same way that Sandy had been bored when her mother talked to her about the relatives in Europe.  Nina would rather be out with her friends.

When Sandy tried to talk to her husband about her parents, he listened for a while, but then he couldn't hear it any more and he would tell her to "Stop being morbid."

Her friends also told Sandy that it was already a year since her mother, the last parent to die, passed away and Sandy needed to "move on" with her life.

Feeling very lonely and misunderstood, Sandy decided to talk to a therapist about her grief.  Her doctor referred her to a therapist who specialized in grief work, and Sandy began attending sessions the next week.

Sandy was relieved that her therapist understood what she was going through and told her that her experiences were a normal part of grieving.

When it came time for Nina to move out of state for a job, Sandy remembered how upset her mother had been when she moved out of state.

At the time, Sandy couldn't wait to start her new life, and she felt impatient with her mother for "making a big deal out of it."

Now that Sandy was going through this with Nina, Sandy understood how her mother felt.  She knew now that her mother's feelings about Sandy going away were complicated by her mother's grief about the loss of her family.

Understanding this now, Sandy felt closer to her mother than ever.  She only wished that her mother could be here now so she could tell her.  She regretted that she had been so impatient with her mother at the time.

Talking to her therapist about her new insights into her mother was a relief because her therapist understood and told her that this is a common experience that people go through after they've lost both parents.

Her therapist talked to Sandy about how everyone continues to have a relationship with their parents even after they have died--regardless of their religious beliefs or whether they believe in an afterlife or not.

Her therapist recommended that Sandy use a journal between sessions to write about her feelings (see my articles: Writing to Cope With Grief and The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions).

Her therapist told her that this continuing internal relationship would continue through the various stages in her life.

Over time, Sandy found this to be true.  She would often think of her parents when she went through major changes in her life, and she felt she understood them better and internalized them in a deeper way as time went on.  This helped her with the grieving process.

You continue to have a relationship with your parents in your inner world after they die.

Going through the various stages in your life, it's not unusual to think about your parents when they went through similar stages and realize that you now understand what you couldn't understand before.

Mourning the death of parents is a process that doesn't end immediately after they're gone.  It can continue in various ways for the rest of your life as you develop new insights into them based on your own experiences.

Many people, including spouses, family members and close friends, aren't comfortable talking about death, grief and mourning.  They might be afraid of the day when their parents are both gone or they might be afraid to think about their own mortality, so you can feel lonely and misunderstood by them.

Getting Help in Therapy
A skilled psychotherapist can help you through the mourning process as well as help you to understand how you continue to develop relationships with your parents even after they're gone (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Losing parents often changes how you see yourself, your parents and how you look at life.  Going through this process alone (or with people who don't understand) can be difficult.

Rather than trying to cope with this on your own, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in this area.

With help from a psychotherapist, you can learn to integrate these experiences so you can feel a greater sense of well-being over time.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to work through their grief and integrate their ongoing inner world experiences of their parents.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.