Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One: Expert Advice for Grief and Support

Losing a parent, especially unexpectedly, can turn your entire world upside down. It’s never easy to cope with such a devastating loss. Recently, a grief-stricken reader reached out to us seeking advice and support. We asked grief counseling expert Elizabeth Schandelmeier from Howling Lion Grief Support for her insight and guidance.

A heartfelt message from the reader describes their situation: “My dad recently passed away from a heart attack, and it has been a shocking experience. He left us much too soon, especially when he and my mother were eagerly looking forward to their retirement in five years. They had put their lives on hold, believing they would have time to travel and spend quality time together after he retired. But now, those plans will never materialize.”

The reader continues, “My mother has completely fallen apart since receiving the news. As a college student who just graduated a few months ago, I have had to take charge of planning the funeral. She has been heavily relying on me, and I have been making major decisions on her behalf. However, amid all this responsibility, I am starting to feel some resentment. I haven’t had the time to grieve my own father. What should I do? I don’t want to leave her alone in her grief, but I also shouldn’t have to be her pillar and pretend to be brave. I feel lost and would appreciate any advice!”

Elizabeth Schandelmeier, an experienced grief counseling expert, offers her condolences and acknowledges the weight of the reader’s emotions. She explains, “Sudden death is unexpected and can be very shocking, especially when it brings about considerable changes in a short period of time. Grief is a complex mix of emotions, and all of your feelings are valid. It must be worrisome to watch your mother suffer and frustrating to take on such immense responsibilities. Remember that you and your mother are grieving different losses, and the challenges you both face will be unique to your individual experiences.”

Drawing on her expertise in supporting families through grief and loss, Schandelmeier emphasizes that the mother and child will process their losses differently because their relationships with the deceased were distinct. “Your mother is witnessing her future change before her eyes, including her hopes and dreams. She now faces the task of rediscovering herself and creating a life that she can look forward to. On the other hand, you are at the beginning of discovering yourself and anticipating change as you build a life independent of your parents to some extent. Both of you are grieving, but in different ways.”

While the reader has shown immense strength by supporting their mother during this challenging time, Schandelmeier underscores the importance of maintaining boundaries. She advises, “Your mother is fortunate to have you there for her during this crisis. However, it’s crucial that you continue to move forward in your own life, which means establishing boundaries.”

Schandelmeier provides some practical suggestions: “Encourage your mother to visit her primary care doctor for a checkup. Taking care of her own health, including nutrition and hydration, is essential during this time. It may also help if you can assist her in connecting with her close friends and broader community, where she can start forming a support network.”

She further suggests, “Consider joining community grief support groups where you can connect with others who are also grieving. Sometimes, there are even groups dedicated to specific types of loss, such as the death of a spouse. Additionally, if your mother belongs to a faith community, reach out to the leader or other members to see if they can offer support.”

In conclusion, Schandelmeier reminds the reader that with time, their mother will be able to discover a meaningful life, even though it may be challenging to imagine that now. It is crucial to encourage the reader’s mother to share memories and stories of their father, as it helps keep his presence alive. Schandelmeier also suggests seeking professional counseling support through a local hospice agency or therapist network, either for the mother or the reader themselves, to gain a deeper understanding of the grieving process.

She emphasizes the importance of not comparing their mother’s grief to their own and advises against judging her experience. Each person’s grief is unique, and it may be difficult for the reader to witness. It is crucial to remember that their mother’s grief belongs to her and not to the reader. They are not obligated to sacrifice their own life to rebuild their mother’s. It’s essential to prioritize their well-being as well.

We extend our gratitude to Elizabeth Schandelmeier for sharing her valuable advice. For further support, you can reach out to Elizabeth Schandelmeier on her website for Howling Lion Grief Support, where she specializes in chronic/terminal illness, childhood trauma’s impact on adult grief, and bereavement.