For millions of American families, the agony of facing a parent’s death is a life changing event. Faced with not only the emotional issues of a parent’s death but also the financial aspect, many adult children struggle to overcome the overwhelming grief whether the death is by a sudden occurrence or attributed to a terminal illness.
Part of this grieving process is especially evident when a parent is diagnosed with a terminal illness. For many, a progressive deterioration in health, due to terminal illness, is often described as more emotionally difficult to face than a sudden death of a parent. For an adult child, caring for a parent with a terminal illness, the impact of facing both the physical and emotional aspects of the dying process, in addition to the grieving process in the loss of the parent, is often overwhelming to such an extent that the adult child is often unable to cope with issues of his or her own daily living. For this reason, understanding what to expect during this emotional time may help to improve the emotional well being of the adult child as they transist through this chapter of their lives.
Much like the stages of dying, described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are also states of grieving. For many adult children, moving through these stages will vary depending on the emotional position of the adult child coupled with the status of the parent’s terminal illness.
Shock is usually the first emotion and is often exhibited by a lack of emotional, almost a feeling of numbness. This is the first of three periods in the recovery process when the adult child faces the first challenge of getting their head around the fact the parent may only be living for a short period of time.
After shock comes in the most challenging phase known as hypersensitivity. It is during this face the adult child will usually feel very overwhelmed and commonly make statements indicating they can not deal with the dying process of the parent. With each new fact or change in the parent’s condition, the adult child may be tearful, feel helpless and even find they are unable to make any decisions regarding the parent’s health. It is during this period that many adult children will need the most support, often provided by other family members or through social service and support organizations.
And, finally, there is a recovery period. For many, this recovery period does not begin until the passing of the terminally ill parent but, may, in some cases begin during the final weeks prior to death. It is during this period the adult child shows a sense of more relaxation and is in better control of emotions.
When faced with a situation in which a parent is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it is important, as the adult children, to understand the emotions associated with grieving, apart from the complications of the dying process, are normal. Seeking out early emotional support, during this life changing event, may work to ensure a more speedy process in the recovery phase in which the adult child is better equipped to move forward with the next chapter of life.