Adult Orphans

by John E. Turner, LMFT and Sally R. Connolly, LMFT

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Some say that they feel very alone and find the loss significant. Old rituals or habits that must end like talking things over with a parent, spending social time, holidays or Sunday dinners with them or even letting go of care-taking responsibilities may require some adjustment.

Hannah, a woman in her 50’s and an only child without children of her own, remarked that it was incredibly sad to recognize that there were no other close relatives in her life. She felt very alone. Bill, a 48 year-old man, said that the loss of both parents was very difficult for him and he would most miss the many family rituals that he, his wife and children enjoyed with Bill’s parents.

Parents hold family memories.

Suddenly, the history is gone. Parents also often hold unconditional love and regard. As adults, we often still look for ways to make them proud of us and when they are gone, we are required to look within ourselves and others to provide that respect and appreciation that helps us to feel good about who we are.


Adults who come from difficult families, or have had painful relationships with their parents, may also feel the loss after they are gone. Then there truly is no opportunity for a reconciliation or for a relationship that feels loving and respectful, even if hope for that was given up long ago.

There are some things that you can do:

  • Talk out loud with someone that you trust about positive, negative   and even ambivalent feelings about your parents.
  • Decide on regular rituals to remember your parents like visits to the cemetery, planting special flowers every spring, lighting candles and recovering memories or even just sharing memories out loud.
  • Find ways to move on, even with small steps, giving yourself permission to let go. Letting go of the grief does not mean forgetting.

What has been helpful, or trouble spots, for you? Please share your comments with us on our forum page.

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