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I recently came across a picture of my parents and me.  We are standing on the front porch of our extended family’s lake cottage. It was taken a year before my father’s death. 

A friend took this picture of us – we are all smiling at her, at the camera, at the joy of being on this lake cottage porch together. It is a moment to be cherished. Taken 20+ years ago, it’s an image of who I was when I still had parents. A “before” picture. 

I’ve traveled a lot of miles since that picture was taken. In the “before” I was living in San Antonio, Texas. Not long after my father died, I moved back to Indiana to be near my mom. Not long after that, my mom died. I was 45 – her death separated me from most of my age peers. As they were raising children, I was managing what was left behind. 

Several people I know have lost a parent recently. 

Some deaths have come after long illnesses or because of advanced age.  Some deaths brought with them relief that their parents were no longer suffering. Other deaths carried mixed feelings. Love, difficult personalities, mental illness, generational addiction, and much more are carried in the complex relationships we hold with parents. 

So it is that the days, weeks, and months following the death of a parent offer opportunities to curiously explore who they were. This curiosity carries with it chances to re-member our parents differently. To get to know them, perhaps in a totally new way, as adults who lived interior and exterior lives that were vastly different from what we understood. 

Getting to know our parents as adults, as humans both flawed and beautiful, can help us rewrite our understanding and experiences of them. 

Through this new understanding, we can also reconsider our own lives. We may find that without the presence of living parents, there is a newfound freedom to live more deeply into our truest selves. 

Dr. Jeanne Safer opens her book Death Benefits with this statement: 

“The death of your parents can be the best thing that ever happens to you.” 

Safer goes on, “Parent loss is the most potent catalyst for change in middle age, the time of life at which most people undergo it.” 

Throughout her book, Safer writes from her own experience of losing her parents as well as through stories of the experiences of others. She offers strategies for uncovering aspects of your parents’ lives. She gives readers four insightful practices and four key questions to explore as you read her writing as well as consider your experiences with your parents.  

While it may seem that our lives began with our parents, and they surely did in one sense, in their death comes new possibilities. 

Some of these opportunities would never have occurred to us when they were living. Now, we get to choose our lives anew. We can move beyond the spheres of their influences and discover what is most important to us going forward. 

For me, a lot has happened in the 20 years since my parents died. So much has changed, and I can safely agree with Safer, their deaths have been the best thing that has happened to me. It gave me, at an earlier age than some, an opportunity to live my life in totally new, unforeseen, without judgment or evaluation or expectation, ways. 

For those who’ve lost a parent recently, I hope you can give yourself rest, plenty of room to breathe, quiet, and time for simply gazing. Grief is not a problem to be solved, but rather an experience to be lived as best as you can. That includes coming alongside your grief with kindness and gentleness. Be present to your grief and give yourself grief breaks too – get outdoors, walk slowly through a museum, listen to music, and be still. You will know when it’s time to take a deeper look. Until then, rest wherever and however you can. 

What have you found supportive after the death of a parent? What are the lessons of loss you experienced through the death of one or both parents?

If this resonates with you, let’s chat!​

A watershed moments coach can come alongside your experience of grief and loss providing support, encouragement, education about the nature of grief and insight that can assist you as you mourn. Collaborating with a coach is an investment in finding your way forward after a significant life change.  Connect with us for a brief introductory conversation where we will explore whether we are a fit for your current grief needs.  Click here to schedule a no-charge, 20-minute conversation where we will learn more about one another.