10 Things that Caught Us Off Guard After a Parent’s Death

Our Krause Funeral Homes staff deals with loss every day, helping Milwaukee families plan the beautiful send off their loved one deserves. Like anyone, we also experience personal losses that turn our lives upside down – including the death of a parent.

It’s hard to even put into words how it feels when a mother or father dies. But we wanted to write this blog to help others know they are not alone as they cope with such a significant loss. In our many years walking alongside those who are left behind, we’ve seen how emotions vary from one person to the next. If your mother or father has died, perhaps you can relate to these unexpected reactions:

  1. “I was tired all the time.” When I heard the news that my mother died, it was like the wind was knocked out of me. I’d never had that “hit by a bus” feeling before, but that says it all. My limbs were heavy and I had trouble mustering up the energy to do much. What I really wanted to do was sleep. It took a long time – many months – to feel a little more like myself again. I still don’t have the energy I did before she died.
  2. “It took a long time for it to sink in that my dad was gone.” It almost feels like I’m stuck in a dream. His death still doesn’t feel real. I’ll pick up the phone to call him. Or think, “I have to talk to Dad about this when I see him…” Sometimes I think he’s stuck at work and will be home any minute. I know this will change over time, but it’s hard to grasp that he was here one day and gone the next.
  3. “I had unexpected health problems.” I know stress affects the body – and that was true for me. I had stomachaches, headaches, digestive issues, and even a bout of vertigo. This all came on in the days before my mom died and during the weeks that followed. Planning the funeral was much more involved than I thought and created some tension in my family. That didn’t help. It took time for me to feel better, but I got there eventually.
  4. “I cried at strange times, without warning.” A few friends and coworkers told me that they couldn’t stop crying after their parent’s death. That they would wake up in the morning, realize what had happened, and cry for hours. I rarely cry, but I found myself tearing up at random times throughout the day. When anything would remind me of my dad, the tears would come. One day I thought I spotted him in a crowd – of course it wasn’t him, but I couldn’t help but cry thinking of my life without him in it.
  5. “I was surprised how mad I was at everyone around me.” I didn’t expect to feel so angry after my mom died. I was mad at myself for not spending more time with her. Mad at my family for decisions made about her care that I didn’t agree with. Mad at my friends for not “reading my mind” and giving me support on my terms. I was even mad at the hospice staff, which made no sense but I felt that way anyway. It was like I was mad at the world and I was angriest with the people around me who were trying to help.
  6. “Holidays and milestones are harder than I anticipated.” I knew Thanksgiving without my mom would be heartbreaking. Her empty chair at the table. Her recipes that we tried to recreate – but that weren’t the same without her magic touch. She left such a void! I didn’t even think about how it would feel to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations without her. It’s really painful. I’m surprised how lonely I feel on these “big days.”
  7. “I was relieved when my dad died – then felt guilty about it.” My dad was in such bad shape in the months leading up to his death. It was awful to see him so sick that when he died I breathed a sigh of relief knowing his suffering was over. Then a moment later, I felt guilty about that. I’ve replayed the day he died a thousand times and thought about what I could have done differently. What I should’ve said to him. Now he’s gone and I’m left with a lot of memories and confusing emotions.
  8. “When the funeral was over, a new kind of grief set in.” The days after my mom died were pretty chaotic. We had a lot of decisions to make about her funeral and burial. My phone was dinging with texts and phone calls. There was always someone around to talk to. But when things quieted down a couple of weeks later, I did not expect another wave of grief to roll in. I started to realize just how different everyday life would be without Mom around. And with that, how different I would be moving forward.
  9. “I think a lot about my own mortality.” When my dad died, it hit me how quickly time passes. As a little boy, I saw my parents deal with the deaths of their parents. Now my kids are going through the same thing. I’m not a morbid person, but I have been thinking about life and death in a new way. Thinking about what really matters.
  10. “Even a year later, the feelings are raw.” Of course, I expected to feel sad for a while after my dad died. But I had no idea I’d feel this way for so long. The only people who understand what I’m going through are others who have lost a parent. When we sit down together and talk, we can all relate to the complicated mix of emotions. That kind of support is really helpful.

It’s said that losing your mother or father is like losing a part of yourself. If you’re struggling with the loss of your parent, check out our Guiding Grief Interactive Online Help. You will be taken through steps to help you find answers to many questions about grief and suggestions for your own healing or help with someone else’s healing. You don’t have to go through this painful time alone. Reach out to us anytime for support.

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