Losing a loved one is never easy, but losing a parent is particularly cutting. Helping your other parent through their grief can magnetize this pain. It can seem nearly impossible for either of you to function as you experience this loss together.
These challenges are an inevitability of life—particularly as we enter midlife and beyond. Yet, despite its ubiquity, dealing with a grieving parent as a grieving adult child can feel miserable, lonely, and overwhelming.
Such was the case for a 45-year-old woman who recently turned to the online forum Reddit for help. The user, an only child, explains their mother has late-stage cancer and was recently admitted to hospice. They told their father they would handle the estate, but they weren’t sure how to keep that promise.
Reddit’s GenX community rallied around the user, sharing advice not only on how to face the death of a parent (because you’re never really ready for it), but also offering guidance on alleviating the burden of your other parent, who has suffered an equally tremendous loss of their life partner.
1. Start Talking To Your Parents Now
Denial is a key stage of grief, and it seems to most strongly manifest in the early stages of a dying parent. We tend to put off tough conversations—particularly those that involve post-death affairs—and avoid finalistic language.
However, one Reddit user urged against this. “Organize the paperwork prior to death in case you’re missing something. After she passes, it’s much harder to navigate. Every bill, credit card, mortgage, vehicle, property tax—it’s all coming your way within weeks. Contact a wealth management group, they have lawyers on staff and will help you with taxes.”
“Now is the time to discuss it with them,” another user agreed. “I know it’s incredibly stressful right now, but it’s not going to get easier. And be prepared to be surprised.”
2. Consider Hiring A Death Doula
If you’re lucky, you don’t have to deal with sorting loved ones’ estates very often. But because this is the first time many of us are managing these affairs, it can be difficult to know where (or to whom) to turn. One Redditor suggests hiring a death doula.
“A doula is kind of like a midwife but for death instead of pregnancy,” the user explains. “They handle the non-medical aspects of the dying process. So, they can advise you all regarding the legal paperwork, your funeral options and rights, and can provide emotional support for your mom and the family. They can also advise you so that you don’t get ripped off by funeral homes.”
A death doula is an all-encompassing guide through the death process. It allows you to seek the help of one person rather than scrambling to find a lawyer, CPA, funeral director, and others.
3. Let Hospice Do Their Job, You Do Yours
It can be tempting to micromanage or assist hospice care workers as you try to regain control over an emotionally turbulent situation. But as another Redditor commented, “hospice will take care of so much. So, focus on what your dad will need going forward.”
“Will he need to think about downsizing his living arrangements? How will he manage handling your mom’s things down the road? Are their finances in order? What will he need to change that’s in her name?” The user continues. It’s natural to want to tend to the sick or dying parent, but your other parent will need assistance, too. Let the hospice care workers do their job while you do yours.
4. Take This Time To Organize Everyone’s Affairs
In that same vein, other Redditors suggest taking this time to organize your other parent’s affairs. While it might not seem appealing to think about both of your parents’ deaths, it can be useful to take advantage of the current focus.
If you’re already tending to one parent’s legal and financial affairs, then it’s logical to do the same for the other. “I cannot stress enough,” one user writes, “get every remaining asset out of your father’s name ASAP. It will pay off in ways you can’t yet imagine. Don’t wait on this because time will fly by. And next thing you know, it will be too late.”
This goes for funeral planning, too. “Ask your dad to pre-plan and pre-pay for his funeral,” another Redditor adds. “I was responsible for my grandfather’s funeral. He had already pre-paid for everything and made all other arrangements. There was very little I had to do other than choosing some readings and songs. I barely had to spend 15 minutes at the funeral home, and most of that time was spent updating information for his obituary.”
5. Take Care Of Yourself, Too
While this might seem like an obvious bit of advice, it’s often the last one we consider. The amount of paperwork, emotions, and red tape you’ll have to navigate will take a tremendous toll on your well-being. Don’t wait until the damage is done to take care of yourself.
“Go into therapy now,” one user writes. “You’ll need to have a lot of patience with yourself, your dad and mom, the lengthy process, the bureaucracy, nonlinear grief, trauma, etc. A therapist can be your person to rely on to support your needs.”
No matter your age, dealing with the death of a parent is a heavy burden to bear. Allow your adult self to extend grace to your grieving inner child during this time.
Seek counseling (even from the comfort of your own home), ask for help from end-of-life professionals, and don’t forget to take care of the living as you tend to the dying.