Studies say the most common reason regards the child’s desire to assume the mother or father’s remaining time for themselves, their siblings, and/or the remaining parent.
This article is free of bias and is, in part, based on personal conclusions in line with those of currently accredited medical organizations and mental health professionals as attributed below. Though I myself am a former mental health professional with training in Psychology, and I will share some relevant information regarding that experience within this article, I am not a doctor and I offer no medical advice herein. Please contact a currently practicing medical or mental health professional for any potential grief-related issue that requires attention.
Sources for this article include VeryWellHealth.com (Lynne Eldridge, MD and Doru Paul, MD), The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (Vince Corso, M.Div, LCSW, CT), and Healthline.com (Crystal Raypole and Alex Klein, PsyD).
The topic of grief over a parent is highly sensitive, and touches on issues such as the perceived ending of a lifelong bond, or regret over a long-desired and unrequited bond, a loss of identity or anticipatory loss in general, becoming an orphan, or even the acknowledgement of a long-feared reality. There are several reasons why an adult child makes the decision to separate friends and extended family from a dying parent, and it is all-too-easy to judge them for doing so.
Perspectives of Remaining Moments
Anticipatory Grief is a term that applies mutually to both parties — the dying and the bereaved — as they await life’s end-stage.
VeryWellHealth.com published an article on the matter in January of this year, written by Lynne Eldridge, MD, and medically reviewed by Doru Paul, MD, entitled ”Coping With Anticipatory Grief,” which explains: Anticipatory grief is similar to the grief you feel after someone dies. One big difference is that there is often more anger. You may also find it harder to control your emotions. Someone who does not have a loved one facing death has no way of understanding how you feel. Even someone who has been through the death of a loved one will have experienced it differently. It can be upsetting when someone tries to tell you what to do or how to feel. Some people react to this unsolicited advice with anger. Others simply shut down. Neither will help you cope.
Locking out others who had been close to the dying parent is not uncommon. The following is a true, personal story, for which I attained permission to share: My aunt’s best friend was dying of cancer, which spread to her lymph nodes. The two friends were inseparable for decades, and helped each other through passings in their own family. The son of my aunt’s best friend was an only child who had lost his dad 11 years earlier, and his relationship with his mom had been tenuous for years.
I called the son when my aunt informed me her friend was not feeling well. “She’s a hypochondriac,” he said. “She thinks she has cancer.” One week later, she was diagnosed. The son flew from across the country to be with his mom as she received cancer treatments. He also proceeded to shut her off entirely from all friends including my aunt, and any extended family. When someone would call, he would either ignore the ringing phone, tell the person he didn’t know them, or sternly advise them never to call again.
This may have been an exhibit of extreme behavior, but grief has no rules. When I finally reached the son — an old friend — to see how his mother was doing, he admitted to me he felt angry at his mother’s condition, and was lashing out. “Suddenly I’m about to be a orphan,” he said, before breaking down. “I came here for closure and didn’t want to waste the time we had left.”
The son permitted me to include his account in this story. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York website elaborates on the subject, in its story titled “5 Steps For Dealing With Anticipatory Grief.”
As excerpted from the article: As a disease progresses, there is so much frustration and sadness associated with watching the person you once knew go away,” says Vince Corso, M.Div, LCSW, CT. “It can be overwhelming.” Corso provided care to his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. He found one of the painful milestones of the disease as the point at which she no longer recognized him. “My mom didn’t recognize us, and she confused us with other people. As a son and a caregiver, that was really hard. I had to leave the room.” But after a period of time, he says, he became acclimated to his new reality and began to accept it. He found that sharing the sense of loss with family members was very helpful. “It’s so crucial that family members talk about the loss.”
Corso found it helpful and healing to discuss the circumstance with his family. Further, in as much as he or anyone suffered during the grief process, ideally one should not ignore the striving of others close to the dying individual for closure of their own.
I say ”ideally” while punctuating this is not a simple matter for many. In the logical sense, others may well desire or even need, in their own grief, a moment to say “goodbye.” In a practical sense, by alienating others close to the dying individual, you are risking a support system that may otherwise be there for you later on.
Healthline.com published a comprehensive piece, written by Crystal Raypole and medically reviewed by Alex Klein, PsyD, entitled “The Grief of Losing a Parent is Complex — Here’s How to Start Navigating It,” which elaborates on the healing process: Know that what you feel is valid. Sadness is common after the loss of a parent, but it’s also normal for other feelings to take over. You may not feel sad, and that’s OK, too. Perhaps you only feel numb, or relieved they’re no longer in pain. Grief opens the gate to a flood of complicated, often conflicting emotions. Your relationship with your parent might have had plenty of challenges, but it still represented an important key to your identity. They created you, or adopted and chose to raise you, and became your first anchor in the world.
To reiterate, no emotion is wrong; it is how those emotions are channeled which may make a difference in both the peace of the passing, and to your own future.
I lost my own dad over 11 years ago. He was my best friend and my hero for innumerable reasons. While I personally did not shut anyone out who wanted to grieve my dad, for several months I myself shut off from others, save for my immediate family. At the same time, I delved into work, which helped me remain productive during that most difficult of times.
Again, please contact a medical or mental health professional if you believe your grief is uncontainable, or otherwise overwhelming.
I sincerely hope this article has helped. Thank you for reading.