The Hidden Grief Of The Adult Orphan
The loss of one’s parents is an inevitable part of life. However, this does not make the experience any less painful, especially during adulthood.
When we lose our parents, in our middle age, it’s almost expected that we accept their deaths with grace and a sense of almost ‘nonchalance’.
We are sometimes expected to get over their deaths relatively quickly and any discussion of our deceased parents should be shelved after several weeks.
Often that is the sad reality of losing an elderly parent, when we are middle-aged ourselves.
I know this, being an adult orphan myself.
However, we know that we can feel the same pain and often intense grief – whether we are 30 years old, or 55 years old. And when we have lost both of our parents, that pain can be intensified.
This article aims to provide insights into the complex journey of grief and change following the death of parents during our adult years.
I want to discuss the emotional impact of this loss, the grieving process, and practical coping strategies if you have recently become an ‘adult orphan’.
Understanding the Depth of Parental Loss
Yes, adults can be orphans too. The term ‘orphan’ is often associated with children under the age of 18 who have lost their parents.
However, it can also describe adults who have experienced the same loss.
The term ‘adult orphan’ often refers to adults who have lost both parents and are grappling with the aftermath of their loss.
Experiencing the death of both parents, regardless of your age, can lead to a shift in your family structure and a profound sense of loneliness.
The individuals you’ve relied on for support and understanding are no longer present, leaving a gaping void in your life.
The Impact of Losing Both Parents
The death of both parents, whether sudden or after a prolonged illness, can result in a profound sense of loneliness.
This feeling can linger even if you have a partner, children, or a supportive circle of friends and family.
The absence of your parents can feel like a loss of your roots and part of your identity.
The term ‘orphan syndrome’ describes the psychological effects of losing one or both parents.
Feelings of abandonment, anxiety, loneliness, and low self-esteem characterize it.
This syndrome can manifest in adults and children and is often accompanied by a fear of future abandonment.
Coping with Double Parental Loss
Dealing with the loss of both parents is a monumental task. Whilst there is no ‘right’ way to grieve, practical strategies can aid you in this challenging journey.
1. Gather Your Support Group
Your support group can be integral to providing emotional, physical, and even financial support during this challenging period. They can help you manage your household, look after children, and provide a listening ear when you need one.
2. Allow Expressions of Grief
It’s important to give yourself permission to grieve.
There is no ‘correct’ way to process the loss of your parents. Regardless of societal expectations, allow yourself the freedom to experience and express your sorrow without shame or guilt.
3. Reach Out for Help
Grief can be overwhelming, and asking for help is entirely okay.
Reach out to your support group, let them know how you’re feeling, and don’t hesitate to ask for assistance with practical matters such as organizing the funeral or managing your parents’ estate.
4. Find Your Safe Zone
Having a special place to express your grief and contemplate your feelings can be very therapeutic.
Your safe zone can be anywhere that allows you to be alone with your grief, whether it’s a quiet spot in nature, a room in your home, or even your car.
5. Keep Personal Items Nearby
Keeping mementoes that remind you of your parents can provide a sense of comfort and connection.
Whether it’s a piece of jewellery, a photograph, or an old letter, these items can serve as tangible reminders of your parents and their love for you.
6. Share Memories of Your Parents
Sharing stories and memories of your parents with your family and friends can be a healing practice. It keeps their memory alive and helps to honour their lives.
7. Address Lingering Feelings of Loneliness
Feelings of loneliness are common after the death of both parents. It’s normal to feel their absence most acutely during holidays, birthdays, or significant life events.
Keeping their memory alive through rituals or traditions can help alleviate these feelings.
8. Resolve Unresolved Conflicts
The death of your parents may bring up regrets or unresolved conflicts. Writing a letter expressing your feelings or offering forgiveness can provide closure and help you move forward in your grieving process.
9. Re-evaluate Life’s Purpose
The loss of your parents can lead to a reevaluation of your life’s purpose. It can provide an opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth. Use this time to explore your passions, interests, and goals.
10. Seek Professional Help When Needed
If your grief becomes overwhelming or you’re struggling with the process, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
Therapists and grief counselors can provide strategies and support to help you navigate this difficult time.
The death of both parents during adulthood is a profound experience that significantly impacts our life.
However, with understanding, support, and effective coping strategies, navigating this difficult journey and eventually finding healing and acceptance is possible.
If you have recently been bereaved and have lost both parents, I wish you all the best in your healing.