How Parents Grieve: A 5-Step Approach to Healing


I remember feeling grief and loss as a child and it’s significantly different from what I now experience as an adult. When I was a kid, grief was somewhat straightforward. The news would be devastating regardless of the circumstances, there would be lots of tears, we would come together for services, and then there was a gray period that seemed like it would last forever, but eventually went away. 

As an adult, grief seems much different. We have these crazy busy lives and more so than ever, grief and loss have become just another part of being an adult. The thing is, parents grieve and when they do, they have to find time and space among all of this chaos to deal with their pain and loss properly and then help their kids process the pain too. 

black and brown dog with blonde woman

The news always comes first

Over the last year, my family and I have experienced quite a bit of grief. It began with the loss of our dog, which was rather sudden but not entirely surprising as he was 12 years old. 

A few months later, my grandmother passed followed quickly by the sudden passing of my uncle. And then, as if the world was slapping us in the face, my other grandmother passed. 

As an adult, you often get the bad news firsthand. Whether you are there when something bad happens or you’re the one dealing with the doctors or personnel trying to help, you’re now the first person to know. With that role comes an unwanted responsibility. No matter how you feel, you have to share the terrible news with your immediate family, most importantly your kids. 

When parents grieve, they still have to keep it together, but also allow the space for emotions to do their thing. It was important to me for my kids to see my tears and also help them recognize that this loss is a natural part of life. But for me, as an adult, life had to go on. It was a few days before Christmas and I have three kids to make magic for. 

Delivering the news of loss to anyone can be challenging. I found it was best to avoid beating around the bush. Instead, be direct, but still soft and kind in the delivery. 

I kept my mind open for any response and made sure not to get offended if I didn’t see the response I expected. A person (child or adult) could appear to be as tough as nails and then break down at the news. Another person that you think is extremely emotional could be as cold as a stone and seemingly in shock. 

I’ve learned that with grief any response is possible and any response is allowed.

Fall Drive with Leaves in VT

What do we do immediately to deal with grief? 

My experiences included lots of downtime, memory sharing, and tears. When I was younger, these were the crucial parts of the grieving process. Sometimes it felt uncomfortable, but it was a shared discomfort that was part of dealing with loss. 

We would sit in this space of sorrow for hours, or even days, until the services. And then after that, we got to “go back to normal”. Or so I thought as a young person. Now I know that grief lingers. But grief is not necessarily a bad thing.

Since Covid, I have noticed that the rush for funeral services has gone away. And because of that, the time to step away from the world and sit with one’s emotions also diminished. 

The most helpful thing to do immediately after receiving the news of a horrible loss, for me, was to be with someone. It could be anyone. It doesn’t have to be for hours on end. Just knowing that you are not dealing with grief alone is so incredibly important. 

My moments alone were some of the most healing and special. When my grandmother passed away, I decided to take a break from the family and sit on her deck and read. Sitting on her deck and reading was one of her favorite things to do. Within just a few minutes, a few strong gusts of warm wind came through the deck almost as if to hug me. Only I could feel it and only I experienced it. And it was one of the most crucial moments in that time of grief to help me get through it.

 The funeral services are over… now what? 

Now is when things get tricky. We’re parents and caregivers who are constantly told to find time for ourselves, but no one ever thinks that you need to factor time in for grieving as part of self-care. But parents grieve and it’s a need that can not be forgotten.

As an adult, I have found a cloud separates my immediate life from the life that’s going on in the outside world. I can hone in and focus on what needs to be done every day in my house and then it hits me like a ton of bricks – there’s a whole world moving on out there, through the clouds. I am performing my parenting responsibilities, but I am also heartbroken. This is one way parents grieve.

In those moments the disbelief of the enormity of the loss hits hard. It seems the reality of losing someone doesn’t entirely sink in… ever. I wonder if that cloud is a layer of protection that we, as moms, create so that we can push through sorrow and do what we need to do for our children without letting other things get in the way.

sunset on the beach

Our mom brains are a work of art. They’re strong, resilient, and wired to keep everyone functioning, alive, and healthy. But they still grieve- parents grieve– and they still need a little TLC. But what does that include?

  1. Therapy

One of the best things to come out of Covid is the focus on the importance of mental health. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. (Why did it take so long for me to figure this out?!)

I started therapy after the loss of our dog and a few months of other non-grief-related stress. I figured, “Hey, we met our deductible, why not?” And then, we experienced three more deaths in eight months. Having a standing therapy appointment got me through those months. My therapist constantly assured me that however I was grieving was correct. 

“Grief is for the living,” she said. 

Grief doesn’t always mean tears. And, most importantly, I learned that grief can come in waves. There is no better way to explain it. Somedays you seem totally fine until thunder strikes (literally) and you remember that your Gramma used to say, “It’s just God moving his furniture” and your whole demeanor changes. You suddenly remember she’s gone and the pain fills your heart like poison. The waves subside, and then you go on with your day.

  1. Remembering with photos

Another way that I learned to deal with grief with a crazy schedule, is remembering through photos. Parents grieve and photos can remind us of happier times. This is something I do with my kids and my partner and is something that I have found so healing. 

Even if it’s just sorting through my Google Photos to find old videos or photos or going up into the attic to dig out the “oldies but goodies”, looking at photos together is something we can do to remember. I recently found a video of two of my family members who passed within a few weeks of each other. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time and it brought me so much joy to send it in a text to my family.

We tell stories, we’re spending time together, we’re communicating, and we’re remembering those that we’ve lost. This is a really important way parents grieve. 

  1. Sleep

It’s pretty simple. We are not our best selves without decent sleep. I’m the first to admit that I usually do not get enough sleep. But when I do, my entire day is better. My outlook is better. The dark cloud is lifted and the sun shines through. It’s the most obvious bit of advice that is 100% valid and makes a world of difference.

  1. Writing

Writing this was therapeutic for me and is another step in my grieving process. But I don’t have to share a blog post to know I will never be alone in grieving. If I’ve learned anything about grief, it’s that everyone goes through it. Everyone grieves. Maybe writing is my way of coping, but reading might be someone else’s.

Everyone is dealing with grief in their own way. Writing is comforting and offers a safe and easy way to let emotions go. I also like writing short notes and letters to those I’ve lost. It comforts me to write letters to my kids with stories about those lost. 

  1. Accepting reality and taking it one day at a time

There are many days that I wake up thinking that my deceased family members and loved ones are still here with us. And when reality hits, it hits hard. But each day I grow more accepting of a life without them and take steps towards living with my grief. I can’t change what happened, but I can honor their memory with each day I am gifted. Even if what I need is as simple as reading my book outside on my deck, honoring my emotions is one way I can acknowledge my tremendous loss.

Parents grieve and when we do, we can teach our children that sorrow isn’t terrifying or unmanageable- that sorrow is an emotion we can face together. 

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