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Dealing with the loss of a parent

Brandon Paykamian • May 19, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Losing a parent can be one of the most traumatic and painful experiences imaginable for most people. Whether the loss was recent or not, those feelings can be magnified in the period between Mother’s and Father’s Day. 

Some coworkers of mine have recently had to deal with such a loss, and I imagine it’s been a tough time for all of them. While they’re all more experienced as journalists and as people, dealing with the loss of a parent is one thing I have years of experience with now. 

Despite this, I didn’t know what to say to ”make them feel better” when I talked to them about it. I can’t necessarily say it gets easier, but maybe it’s more complicated than that.

When my mother died after her battle with pancreatic cancer, I was just 17. More than seven years later, it’s still tough to think about. Just writing this column is rough enough, considering the times in the past that I refused to speak to grief counselors or therapists about it.

I really don’t think there are many things quite like losing a close parent. On one hand, it makes you feel like a scared child, and on the other hand, it’s a life experience that makes you feel much older. In my case, I have already lived more than half of my mother’s 41 years. 

There are some days when that familiar wave of melancholy hits me randomly. It happens at the strangest of times – out having beers with friends, sometimes in the car alone. Other times, it’s triggered by being in a hospital or a brief smell of something that reminds me of a certain day. 

That “wave” sometimes hits me when I reach a milestone in life. I was the first person on her side of the family to get a bachelor’s degree, and I’m sure she would’ve liked to see that.

I’ve always thought life is finite and that’s what makes it special and sacred, so I don’t have the comfort religion often provides. I’ve never had the warm, fuzzy feeling that I’ll eventually see my mother again somewhere else. 

But what’s different now is that I am able to talk about it. I couldn’t have published this column years ago – my fingers would’ve refused. I think that’s a sign of progress.

Resisting the urge to isolate oneself is always important, but especially in the wake of a tragic loss. That’s why psychologists always stress the need to talk about the grief and trauma that comes with it. 

Talking about these things with friends, family and therapists is an important part of coping with the loss of a parent. While it doesn’t always feel like a healing experience, it’s cathartic at the very least.

According to Mental Health America, death makes us experience a whirlwind of negative emotions – denial, confusion, shock, sadness, anger, despair, and even guilt.

That’s a lot to sort out. If you don’t talk about it, those loud thoughts start banging on the walls saying, “Let me out!” 

Men, in particular, often close ourselves off after years of being socialized to “be tough” and “suck it up.” That’s not healthy. 

Maybe I’m guilty of oversharing at times, but this is how I view talking about grief and trauma. Psychologists are right when they stress the need to talk about it.  

This time of year can be tough for a lot of us. If you need to talk to someone in your social circle or reach out to a professional, do so. They will listen. 

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