3 Ways Loss of A Parent Changes Us

And how it can make us better

Melissa Miles McCarter
Jun 28 · 4 min read

I’ve changed a lot since my dad died. My perspective and my interactions with others have changed. There’s evidence that our brains even change physiologically after the death of a parent. Our parents are often some of the most important people in our lives, so that makes a lot of sense. Here are 3 ways the loss of a parent changes people.

Reminds you of your mortality

This is probably true when anyone you know passes, but the loss of a parent can really amplify a sense of mortality. For me, I really didn’t want to think about when my parents might die on a regular basis. When my dad died, I realized that wasn’t true on a visceral level and that life really does end. Thinking about my mortality before my dad’s death depressed me or made me anxious.

My dad’s death was a wake-up call to live every day as my last and encourages me to seize the day. My dad’s death reminded me of that we need to think of life as precious on a daily basis. I try not to take for granted my life and those of my loved ones.

Changes family dynamics

The death of a family member can shift the dynamics of a family. This was especially true when my dad died. He was Popi to my daughter and my nephews. His loss meant one less grandparent to dote on them. Instead, other grandparents have to take on some of the slack.

I lost someone to lean on in bad times and a feeling of protection my dad had given me. In some ways that meant now seeing my husband more in a protector role. I have begun to rely on myself more.

My mom, sister and I also have become a lot closer. We came together during my dad’s nine-month struggle with end-stage dementia which was caused by a stroke. His death gave us a life experience that bonded us. We have a shared sense of loss.

Brings up good and bad memories

I don’t think a lot about my childhood now that I’m 44 years old. But my dad’s death brought up a lot of memories. The good ones make me miss him, but they also make me glad to have loved him for so many years. He made me who I am in so many ways. I had a particularly close bond with him when I was very little. I have a similar bond with my 3 year old daughter. As she gets older I will share those memories with her.

My sister and mom reminisce with me about the adventures we all had with my dad. He really was one of a kind. We appreciate how he made us live in the moment and be brave in the face of adversity. He was a fighter until his dying day. We remember all the times he fought for us.

But his death also brings up bad memories. I remember the conflict we had as a teenager. But remembering those bad memories also allows me to forgive him and myself for our mistakes. I appreciate how those obstacles didn’t end our relationship.

Not everyone can overcome their bad memories. They may have unresolved issues because of those negative experiences. But hopefully in the grieving process they can learn to forgive and the hard edges of the memories soften.

Grieving the loss of a parent is difficult. But I think the loss can make us better people. We may miss them intensely, but this loss can change us for the good.

Melissa Miles Mccarter is writing a series of essays about grieving her father’s death from end-stage dementia that was caused by a stroke. She has written on feminism, mental health, popular culture, infertility and motherhood for various publications including HuffPost, Yahoo!, and Salon. You can read more of her work here. Tweet her at @lissahoopy

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Melissa Miles McCarter

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I live in a rural Civil War era home under constant renovation with my husband, stepson and daughter. Read more at https://medium.com/melissa-miles-mccarter

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

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