For Anyone Who Has Lost a Parent or Will Lose a ParentJill Layton

I don’t want to ruin your day or anything, but let’s discuss something really sad, because sometimes life stuff is sad. A lot of the time, actually. Sad things happen, and I think it’s important to talk about them.

Our parents are going to die. Not right this second (I’m not predicting a parent apocalypse), but eventually they will die. They will die before we do (unless something goes terribly wrong, but let’s not make this any sadder). It’s just the way time works. They’re older. They die first. That’s how they want it, and that’s how it should be. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

By now, most of us have lost someone close to us, so we can imagine how awful it is to lose a parent. But until it happens to you, you won’t fully understand the gravity of the awfulness. And that’s okay. Not understanding is not feeling the pain, and living without the pain is something we should be entitled to do for as long as we can. The pain of waking up every morning and for a split second, forgetting that part of your heart and soul isn’t here anymore, and then remembering is awful. Part of who you are and where you come from is gone. No new memories will ever be made with your parent again.

When something really great happens to you, like when you get married, or have a baby or win a Nobel Peace Prize (or a fun prize in one of those claw arcade games), the person who would care the most isn’t here to be proud of you. If something really bad happens to you, your first instinct is to call your mom or dad for support, but you can’t. Their phone has been disconnected. When your parent dies, you instantly lose the feeling of being connected to your childhood and where you come from. You can no longer ask questions about your family history, medical questions or how to do life questions. No one will ever love us in the same unconditional way our parents have loved us. The pain of losing a parent never goes away, you just learn to live with it.

Everyone grieves differently and in their own way, but ultimately, our feelings are universal. There are different stages of grief, but they don’t happen in order. One day you may feel angry or depressed, and the next day you may think, “If only I did something differently, she’d still be alive.”. Maybe the next day you accept that he’s gone, then five minutes later a memory pops up and you can’t stop crying. There isn’t one correct way of grieving (like there is one correct way of eating an Oreo). If you want to stay home to be alone with your thoughts, then do it. If going out with friends helps you feel better, then go. However you are grieving is how you’re supposed to be grieving.

I’m not a grief expert, but I know that I’m not alone in wanting to talk about it. My mom died two years ago. It was sudden and terrible. I’m still grieving, and I always will be. And you will grieve too, if you aren’t already. But we will be okay, because we have to be. Our lives continue without them. As hard and as heart breaking as it is, we don’t have a choice. Our parents did everything they could to prepare us for being on our own. Not just living in a different home or city, but living when they no longer are. Doing life the way they prepared us to. And as long as we feel like they’d be proud of us, then we’re doing it right.

This post is dedicated to my mom, Margie Silver, and to all the moms and dads who are greatly missed.


.Featured image via ShutterStock

Related posts:

Choosing Hurts: Balancing the Pull Toward Family and Work

Parents Get Nervous About Parent/Teacher Conferences, Too

Am I A Bad Parent?

  • Brittany Shachmut

    Hi Jill – Today, 3/4/14, makes 2 years since my mom passed away and I still can’t believe it. I miss her everyday and know that I always will. Thank you for this blog post, which summed up the feelings I know all too well. I never thought I would be without my Mom, as least not yet, anyway. I miss her terribly and have a much greater appreciation for life and all the people in it. It definitely puts a whole new meaning to “live life to the fullest.”

    • Jill Layton

      Couldn’t agree more. xo

  • Chen Li Yong

    I’m not expecting to lose any of my parents soon, they’re fine. But I’m glad I read this post. It taught me to cherish all the moments while they’re still here, not after they already gone. Kudos to you. Hope everything will be alright. She will be proud of you.

  • Jaime Hamilton

    Hi Jill and others –
    I know that you all know how I feel and that is amazing. I have so much support and love from friends and family but never had many people who knew what this emptiness feels like. You are so right, there is a piece of my heart that is gone for ever. Some days are easier, some days are not at all.
    My mom died on March 3, 2009 of complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease). For three years she struggled with the slow degeneration of her muscles. I remember when she couldn’t talk any more. I left my parent’s house, got home, and cried for an hour in my car.
    My mom knew she was going to die and tried to prepare me for it, we talked about her life, shared stories and dreams. We laughed all the time, especially when she lost so much weight that her clothes didn’t fit and she had to get all new clothes. She talked about what I was going to do after she was gone. She asked me to promise that I would get up each day and that I would move forward and I do. It is hard because a very strong string connects me to her. I hear recordings of her singing and I cry. I am crying now just talking about it. She was my favorite person and it hurts to know she is gone.
    What hurt more was when other people told me that I was not grieving normally. Because I was happy sometimes after she died, and laughing. To the others out there. Honor your feelings, it is ok to feel everything you are feeling. My mom was a joyful person and was in so much pain. I know she is at peace and she would want me to be happy. She used to all ways say to me, “EGBOK, everything is going to be ok” and she is right.
    It isn’t perfect, but it is ok, egbok.

  • Jasmine Nguyen

    Thank you for this post. My dad passed away when I was 9, and this post has brought all the memories during that grieving period. I cried a lot before I could even finish this post. I don’t typically think about my dad everyday, not because I don’t care, but I guess because I moved on. He is however still in my heart, and when I do think about him, I do cry. My mom recently turned 40, and I have began thinking about how one day she too will leave. It breaks my heart, but I think I need to just accept the fact she is getting older, and appreciate the time I do have with her.

  • Kim Culver

    First my condolences to you for losing your mom. Your article was wonderful and really conveyed the feeling of those who have lost parents. In 1993 I tragically lost my mom in a plane crash. She was my best friend. Even after all of these years I still feel the urge to pick up the phone and call her. I would love to call about silly things like movies that she would have enjoyed (especially with Harrison Ford) but mostly Id like to tell her about her grand daughter and get advice about my life. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about her and miss her. You never stop grieving and that is something most people do not understand and there is no way of knowing when it will hit you. Its important for others to know that we love talking about our parents. Just because it may trigger grieving it isn’t a bad thing. To grieve means you had someone you loved and that is wonderful. I may not have had the quantity of time that others have but I certainly had the quality time with her and for that I will always be blessed.

  • Kristina Aguirre

    Thanks so much for writing this, Jill. My father passed away this year at only 52 and the experience is difficult to explain in words. I think you are truly correct in that there is no way to understand it until it happens and I have lost a great friend over her inability to stand by and just let me grieve through it. I also found that it seemed like many people were just insensitive to my loss. Maybe that was because my father was so young and it seemed like an unnatural time for me to be losing a parent, but I know that we, as those who have lost parents, have gained a level of empathy that we can share with each other. We know the depth of pain this kind of event causes and I know that I value life and this journey that we all have before us much more than before.

    I talked to my father everyday for the year leading up to his passing and it still gets me when I leave work and he is the first person I want to call. It feels like he is still there and somedays the reality that there will never be anyone on the other end of that phone call is overwhelming. I just wish I could show my friends who have both parents a little preview of what this feeling is like. Not so they have empathy for me, but so they know how blessed their lives really are and can appreciate their parents in a way I know I didn’t always.

    Thanks again. I am sorry for your loss, but I am also angry for you because I know just how unfair this feels for all of us that must lose parents earlier than “natural.” It seems weird to tell a stranger on the internet that I am here for you, but I am because I feel this shared experience is strong enough to break the barriers of the impersonal internet.


  • Debbie Henders Fini

    My mother is dying. She may not make it through the month, but she will soon be gone. I just left church where I cried for the entire hour. I have no clue how to grieve for the person that is “Mom”. I feel lost most days and I try to be her support system, but reading all of the comments, I have not even begun to experience this sense of loss. I anticipate it coming in the weeks, months and years ahead. Thank you for writing this. I have a feeling I will be reading this over and over again.

  • Debbi Rothenberg

    Thanks so much for this, Jill. We all need to know we are not alone in our feelings no matter how old we are or how old our parents were when they died. My mother died 4 years ago this week and I still miss her every day. She had Alzheimers and was slowly losing the ability to do some things, but still managed to take a “stretch and shine” class the day before she had difficulty breathing. This was something new, so I drove to her and took her to the doctor who gave her a physical and all was good except that she needed a lung x-ray. My sister took her the next day for that and called me in a panic when the result showed a huge mass in her lung. It took about 6 weeks for her to die and it is all a blur to me. My father had died of a heart attack at 56 at a banquet in his honor which was shocking and traumatic in ways that no one should have to live through. It’s been over 40 years now and I still remember his gentleness and sense of humor. He was the best man I ever knew. Grieving is a process. It is different for everyone and each time it is different for the same person. No one can rush it or skip stages. The pain gets duller with time and memories replace heartache. I do try to conjure up their spirits even though my husband doesn’t believe in it. It is a comfort knowing their presence is around me.

  • Lauren Heffernan

    This was a lovely article. My mom died when I was 14, in 2005, of lung and liver cancer. It wasn’t sudden, and in fact it took almost two and a half years before it took her. She left me, my 5 year old sister, and my dad, to try to navigate life together, and that was really quite a mess. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother, although I know from experience how little ‘sorry’ means on paper. But I truly am sending good thoughts and healing hopes your way from Pennsylvania. Grief is a journey, and although it gets easier, it never goes away. Best of luck <3

    • Jill Layton

      Thanks, Lauren. Right back at you. Xo

  • Valerie Jung Gilbert

    I lost my father when I was 19, 25 years ago to suicide.. Still not easy to accept, but I did get to the point where I just quit telling people what happened. At first they’d throw it back in my face, especially my own half-sisters since he left me something and not them. Even my sister in law didn’t know til this week how he died. Recently I got in touch with my favorite cousin after 27 years. He’s been thru so much from a motorcycle accident where a drunk driver crushed his leg, heart surgery at age 5, stage 2 skin cancer and most recently the loss of his step-brother to the flu and his father, my uncle to COPD. Yet he still goes on. I asked him how and he told me because there are too many people who love and care for him. Just wish my dad had thought of that.

    • Vanessa O’Rourke

      It sounds like your cousin is very strong, and very wise. So lovely you’ve reconnected. x

  • Ijeamaka Gwen

    My condolences, deep thoughts and prayers. I am crying reading this. I lost my dad 3 years ago from a heart attack and I can hardly believe the place I am in now compared to when he first moved on. Time heals. God’s word brings peace. I will always miss him, and the most random reminders of him make me smile and cry at the same time. But like you said, he raised me to be able to live and thats what I’m finally doing.

    The same goes to the others on this post. Friends in similar situations really helped me. I’m 23 and a teacher. So I get a lot of perspective and while I’m young I still got to have my Dad longer than many and I’m just thankful for the time I had with him. But I definitely know how you feel. Its hard and has taken me time to get to this place.

  • Violet Frieda Gray

    I am so sorry for your loss. I spent all day yesterday crying; it has been 1 yr since my Dad passed. I really wish I could say it gets easier to accept…

  • Aaron Stewart

    Jill, I’m terribly sorry for your loss. My Dad passed away a little over 2 and 1/2 years ago. He was really sick. It was sudden, terrible, and completely unexpected. Since then, things have gotten better, but not necessarily easier. Some days are easy, but others (especially Father’s Day and the death anniversary) feel like they’re only there to remind me that I no longer have a father in my life. They’re excruciatingly hard days, and they always bring me back to that very night he passed. There’s nothing I can do to prepare for them.

    Other times, I become very jealous and angry when I see people who still have their dads with them. They don’t know how lucky they are, and they shouldn’t take their parents for granted! I’m thankful my Dad is in a better place, and though I’ll see him again someday, I just don’t understand why he had to leave so soon. I’m only 22 years old, and I have the rest of my life ahead of me. Losing a parent is definitely a reality I thought I’d never have to face. However, it’s really taught me not to take life for granted, and it’s given me a new appreciation of my friends and family. Jill and everyone else, thanks so much for sharing.

  • Aaron AG Gray

    I really like your brief profile and I am in agreement with what you have written concerning losing a parent (or someone you love dearly). My father died when I was 11, and it occured two days before Christmas. I maternal grandmother died when I was in the 11th grade and it was also near a holiday. So, I have lost a parent and other loved ones so I do not want readers to think my comments are insensitive or merely theorhetic.

    The first thing you mentioned which stood out to me in the article is this: “Sad things happen, and I think it’s important to talk about them.” I believe this is the primary reason death is so painful. It falls into the category of politics, religion, and a woman’s age, its something you just don’t talk about. The sad reality is that when conversation does not take place concerning death, people are ill prepared and or equipped to deal with it.

    There is another reality that is of even greater importance and that is a person’s belief system. I am a born again Christian and my faith in God presents the while story, not just half of it. None, that is not to say that faith in God removes the grief and pain a person experiences, it does not. What is does do is help the believer to properly process death. I deal with death regularly as a minister. I must sit with families to preapre the final farewell and or minister to them during the funeral service. As a minister my responsibility is to bring the reality of God and comfort to the family. That comfort comes from the word of God, the Holy Bible. It talks a lot about death, it says things such as to be absent from the body is to be present when the Lord; precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saint; and the one that I believe brings the most comfort is the verse that states that we do not sorrow as other people who have no hope. That final piece is the anchor for the Christian, though we sorrow because we are human and we are relational beings we miss our loved ones when they die. However, there is hope for the believer beyond death and the grave! When the Christian dies it is actually a promotion because the end result of our faith and belief in Christ is that we will be with Him.

    Thanks for a good article and tribute to your loced ones.
    With sincere regard,

  • Caitlin Martin


    Everything you said and feel I have experienced. Without going into extreme detail, I lost my mother and best friend on March 12th, 2012. It will be two years next month. It was a day surgery that went extremely wrong. I still doubt myself, I still question things because my family still doesn’t have all the answers to so many questions. But even though I have all sorts of questions such as how and why the fact remains, my mother is gone.

    I will never hear her respond when I say I love you. Never feel her loving touch on my arm. Never see her loving smile across the room or go through so many life moments (marriage, new jobs, babies etc.) with her; as I was only 24 when she was taken.

    Even with all that said I remind myself that I had 24 amazing years with a loving mother. There are many people who will never know what a loving parent especially, mother is like.

    Jill, we are very lucky to know what that kind of love and we can pass that love on to our children. I know we have never met before and I doubt we ever shall but anyone who has lost their parent when they are young is instantly connected. I have come to discover that we will grieve our entire lives and just like you said it hits you are the most random of times—yesterday I was standing in my bathroom cleaning my ears and bam! It hit me! Moms gone! I know this will continue to happen and in an odd way I want it to. It reminds me that I had such a special person in my life.

    Sorry this comment is so long! I will leave you with this idea given to me by a dear friend.

    When you miss her so deeply it hurts in your bones. Sit down on the ground in a quiet space and think of a wonderful memory you shared with her. Let that memory fill you up with love, let the love turn to warmth and the warmth be her arms embracing you in a loving hug. Know that she is just in the other room, because she is and she will always be there loving you everyday of your life until you meet again.

    Yours truly,
    Caitlin M.

  • Rebekah Decker

    9/17/2005 is my mom’s death day.
    i “joke” (cause i’ve learned to do that) that we’re all in a club together. we are, really. and it’s a terrible one. but it helps to know you’re not alone.
    you’re not

  • Marika Tabilio

    100% spot on – have spoken many of these exact words to people in trying to explain what it’s like (though of course, explanations seem so very meager compared to the reality of the emotions). So, so very sorry for your loss, and the losses of all these eloquent commenters.

    This weekend will be 3 years since I lost my dad – totally out of the blue as well, terrible – and I’ve been trying to describe what I’m feeling now (and, let’s get real, every day) to my relatively new boyfriend, who has never lost anyone. Why I can cry and laugh at a memory at the same time. Why this affects every single day of my life, and always will. Why he can’t just change the subject if I bring up a story about my dad, or look at a picture, and god forbid tear up a little bit.

    It’s hard trying to explain a total, overwhelming, lifelong sadness – one that you can somehow still live with, thrive in spite of, and be happy through – to someone who legitimately has no basis of comparison. While he listens and tries to understand, trying to talk about it sometimes feels like I’m turning the whole thing into a melodrama. This helps me remember that what I’m feeling is still warranted.

    I’m SO, so incredibly thankful for the 24 years I did get with that awesome, hilarious, brilliant goofball of a man, and it’s heartbreaking and comforting to read this post, and all the comments, and remember that it’s okay to still not be okay.

  • Yu Ding

    My dad died one year ago. All of the tragedy just happened, without sign, without preparation ,it just happened. If I did a little bit better, if I am not that selfish, not too involved in my own world to put curse words about my parents, maybe he is still alive. I missed him a lot. I really want to know when I can see him again.

  • Chris Pappas

    Mother’s Day 2012, my Father was laid to rest. Exactly one year apart from his death, my Mother also died and was laid to rest also on Mother’s Day. I did not realize how much I was doing a dis service to myself by not seeking hlp for grieving. The stress was so terrible, my body started to give up.
    The week of my Mothers death I weighed 180 lbs. When I returned back home to where I now reside, I lost 40 lbs. That alone was a warning sign in itself. Finally, the second week of June, I am mostly skin and bones.. I end up in the ER. I became a type one late onset diabetic. My A1c was over 700, I had 6 IV’s in my arm to get me back to life. Death can increase so much. I learned to balance things over the past 6 months. Losing both of parents on the same day within one year exactly to the date really messed me over. I am learning how to talk about it for the very first time.

    • Jill Layton

      Thank you for sharing that, Chris. Glad you are getting healthy and are able to finally talk about your grief.

  • Rachel Rosenthal

    My mom died 3 years ago and it’s single handily the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It crippled me in a way I can’t even properly articulate. It’s only been in the last 6 months that I’ve even begun to feel like a new old version of myself. Where I’m no longer a shadow of the person I used to be. I was actually talking about that tonight. How my life has this moment where everything shifted. Where I suddenly became a different person. I looked the same and talked the same but everything inside was instantly different. Everything is still different but my eyes and edges have softened.
    It’s a pain that never goes away. But it’s a pain you learn to live with and make room for. Because where ever you go, it’s coming with.
    Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve found that a blog helped/helps me. I used to write everyday. Now not as much. But there’s a comfort in having a place to share thoughts.. Mine are here –
    Thank you,

    • Alex Jimenez

      I love your idea of blogging to your beloved parent. I hope it’s as therapeutic as I imagine it to be. I lost my Dad 18 months ago, I talk to him every single day (outloud, laughing, crying). You know the drill.

      I wish you much healing.
      Alex, NYC

Need more Giggles?
Like us on Facebook!