10 Things that Caught Us Off Guard After a Parent’s Death

Our Krause Funeral Homes staff deals with loss every day, helping Milwaukee families plan the beautiful send off their loved one deserves. Like anyone, we also experience personal losses that turn our lives upside down – including the death of a parent.

It’s hard to even put into words how it feels when a mother or father dies. But we wanted to write this blog to help others know they are not alone as they cope with such a significant loss. In our many years walking alongside those who are left behind, we’ve seen how emotions vary from one person to the next. If your mother or father has died, perhaps you can relate to these unexpected reactions:

  1. “I was tired all the time.” When I heard the news that my mother died, it was like the wind was knocked out of me. I’d never had that “hit by a bus” feeling before, but that says it all. My limbs were heavy and I had trouble mustering up the energy to do much. What I really wanted to do was sleep. It took a long time – many months – to feel a little more like myself again. I still don’t have the energy I did before she died.
  2. “It took a long time for it to sink in that my dad was gone.” It almost feels like I’m stuck in a dream. His death still doesn’t feel real. I’ll pick up the phone to call him. Or think, “I have to talk to Dad about this when I see him…” Sometimes I think he’s stuck at work and will be home any minute. I know this will change over time, but it’s hard to grasp that he was here one day and gone the next.
  3. “I had unexpected health problems.” I know stress affects the body – and that was true for me. I had stomachaches, headaches, digestive issues, and even a bout of vertigo. This all came on in the days before my mom died and during the weeks that followed. Planning the funeral was much more involved than I thought and created some tension in my family. That didn’t help. It took time for me to feel better, but I got there eventually.
  4. “I cried at strange times, without warning.” A few friends and coworkers told me that they couldn’t stop crying after their parent’s death. That they would wake up in the morning, realize what had happened, and cry for hours. I rarely cry, but I found myself tearing up at random times throughout the day. When anything would remind me of my dad, the tears would come. One day I thought I spotted him in a crowd – of course it wasn’t him, but I couldn’t help but cry thinking of my life without him in it.
  5. “I was surprised how mad I was at everyone around me.” I didn’t expect to feel so angry after my mom died. I was mad at myself for not spending more time with her. Mad at my family for decisions made about her care that I didn’t agree with. Mad at my friends for not “reading my mind” and giving me support on my terms. I was even mad at the hospice staff, which made no sense but I felt that way anyway. It was like I was mad at the world and I was angriest with the people around me who were trying to help.
  6. “Holidays and milestones are harder than I anticipated.” I knew Thanksgiving without my mom would be heartbreaking. Her empty chair at the table. Her recipes that we tried to recreate – but that weren’t the same without her magic touch. She left such a void! I didn’t even think about how it would feel to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations without her. It’s really painful. I’m surprised how lonely I feel on these “big days.”
  7. “I was relieved when my dad died – then felt guilty about it.” My dad was in such bad shape in the months leading up to his death. It was awful to see him so sick that when he died I breathed a sigh of relief knowing his suffering was over. Then a moment later, I felt guilty about that. I’ve replayed the day he died a thousand times and thought about what I could have done differently. What I should’ve said to him. Now he’s gone and I’m left with a lot of memories and confusing emotions.
  8. “When the funeral was over, a new kind of grief set in.” The days after my mom died were pretty chaotic. We had a lot of decisions to make about her funeral and burial. My phone was dinging with texts and phone calls. There was always someone around to talk to. But when things quieted down a couple of weeks later, I did not expect another wave of grief to roll in. I started to realize just how different everyday life would be without Mom around. And with that, how different I would be moving forward.
  9. “I think a lot about my own mortality.” When my dad died, it hit me how quickly time passes. As a little boy, I saw my parents deal with the deaths of their parents. Now my kids are going through the same thing. I’m not a morbid person, but I have been thinking about life and death in a new way. Thinking about what really matters.
  10. “Even a year later, the feelings are raw.” Of course, I expected to feel sad for a while after my dad died. But I had no idea I’d feel this way for so long. The only people who understand what I’m going through are others who have lost a parent. When we sit down together and talk, we can all relate to the complicated mix of emotions. That kind of support is really helpful.

It’s said that losing your mother or father is like losing a part of yourself. If you’re struggling with the loss of your parent, check out our Guiding Grief Interactive Online Help. You will be taken through steps to help you find answers to many questions about grief and suggestions for your own healing or help with someone else’s healing. You don’t have to go through this painful time alone. Reach out to us anytime for support.

4 thoughts on “10 Things that Caught Us Off Guard After a Parent’s Death

  1. My mom died on March 8, 2021 at about 10:45 PM. People think I’ve recovered, I haven’t. I’m still just as messed up as the day after it happened. I still get overwhelming rushes of anxiety between 8 PM and 11 PM every night, even if I’m unaware of the time. I just stopped talking about it because people were losing sympathy. I stopped telling my well-meaning friends who haven’t experienced such a loss that don’t understand that you can be affected by it even when it’s not actively on your mind. At my 20-year high school reunion, I didn’t feel like lecturing or arguing so I just humored and “uh-huh”ed people giving me ignorant but well-intentioned advice but the whole time I was thinking “tried it, didn’t work”. I used to create music all the time up through March 7, 2021. Since then, I’ve only made a handful of songs (one in October 2021, three in 2021 (January, July, December) and four so far this year, in January, April, May, and September, so maybe I’m getting SLIGHTLY better in that regard). I’m completely numb. I don’t feel anything. For the first three days after she died, I felt overwhelming grief, then by the day of the funeral, I was just numb and shell-shocked, just like I am now. I’ve literally forgotten what happiness feels like. People think it’s hyperbole when I say that. It’s not. I assume happiness is the content feeling of nothing going wrong at any given moment but more so. I assume happiness is what you feel in the morning when you’re comfortable in bed and realize you don’t have to get up for work because it’s Saturday or Sunday.

    This is one side effect I never expected. Time doesn’t feel like it moves forward anymore. I don’t feel like I’m caught in a Groundhog’s Day loop, it doesn’t feel like I’m permanently reliving the day after it happened, instead it feels like the rest of the world is moving forward and has left me further and further behind stuck in March 2021 but time still does move, except it moves sideways. I perceive every new day as just a variation of the previous day. It’s all the same day except with a few changes. I don’t really enjoy anything. I just kind of exist. My dad’s in even worse shape than I am.

    If you’re wondering how I found you, random Google search is how I got here. Just thought I’d share my experience.

    1. To add to this, I’ve experienced loss before, lost 13 loved ones between 2011 and 2012 for example. But this. This was different. It also didn’t help that my mom went into the hospital on March 2, 2021 and none of us knew the extent of her health problems. We found out she had a stroke on February 24, 2021 but spent about a week trying to power through it. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know just how bad. I had some false hope on the 26th and 27th then on the 28th and March 1 things went back to declining. It’s still shocking. March 1, 2021 she rode her chairlift to the downstairs floor, even went on her computer to go on Facebook for a brief while, then ate supper, watched America’s Got Talent on TV then Hallmark movies until early March 2, like 3 AM. Then went to bed. Then couldn’t get out of bed on her own or even with help. Then March 4 I find out what all’s wrong then March 7 she’s moved to palliative care then dies late on March 8. What usually happens over several months or weeks at most happened over a single week.

      1. Matt I wish you all the best.

        My mother passed away in August of this year. I was her primary caregiver. I lived with my mother and would call her at least twice a day. She was very independent and used a cane to emulate. She fell in January and fractured her hip. This led to further hospitalizations and she contracted pneumonia. These complications led to her death.
        I am not a person who cries much. My father’s death was different. Every relationship is unique. Since my mother’s death I think about her daily and sometimes cry. Sometimes I feel and sense her presence. I truly understand how you feel and continue to feel your own special way when thinking about your mother. We will all meet them someday in the future.

  2. Dad thoughts

    It’s been two years since my dad died unexpectedly due to heart attack. My sister was sick and suddenly the burden of whole family was on me. I was the youngest and I was 26years old. Suddenly money problems hit us and outsiders started taking advantage of the situation to milk money out of the family. Family friends and relatives were so supportive. I had to suddenly get to finish the unfinished businesses and did not have any time to grieve. I didn’t want to show my grief. I wanted to be strong for my mom and sister. I wanted to be their hope. I thought seeing me tear apart would make it hard for them. I tried not to think about what happened but panic attacks started hitting me. My hands and one side of my face would be numb when I wake up. When my panic attack hits during the day, my hands would start getting numb and I was very scared to leave home. I could get into the car that my dad drove me in the night before. I shivered. I think it is still hard for me to accept that he is not there anymore. I live abroad and I think he is still around sometimes. Then I realise he is not. Hurts!
    I tear up suddenly when anything reminds me of him. A picture or a memory or anything. Couldn’t hold my tears. I wonder when this will get better.
    I do not talk to my mom that much as it reminds me that my dad is not around. I know it is not right but I cannot be myself.
    I was very very very close with my mom. I know that this must hit her so bad that I am not normal still.
    But I do not know what to do. I feel like I have not been happy as I used to me. A part of me is missing. I would like that to be back very much. To be wholly happy again. I do not know when I will achieve it.
    I feel like nobody understands this. My husband tries to give me my space and if course doesn’t want to do anything that brings me sadness.
    It hurts when something about dads comes up on movies or TV.

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