While we know losing a parent is extremely hard to deal with and can leave someone feeling quite empty, most do not realize how much it changes a person. The impact losing a parent has on a person is much longer-lasting than most want it to be and is something that the person has to carry with themselves, forever.
In the past, there have been several studies done on this kind of thing and they have proven that there are a lot of potential negative effects that come from parental loss. These include mental, emotional, and even physical effects that can be severe or mild depending on the person. One study, in particular, examined what effects this kind of thing could have on children if it were to occur early on in their lives.
This study was published in the Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine and titled ‘The long-term impact of early parental death: lessons from a narrative study.’ Its objective was listed as an exploration of the experiences of those who have experienced the death of a parent before the age of 18 and how that impacts their lives. As you would expect, the results were quite interesting.
While individual experiences of bereavement in childhood were unique and context-bound, the narratives were organized around three common themes: disruptions and continuity, the role of social networks and affiliations and communication and the extent to which these dynamics mediated the bereavement experience and the subsequent impact on adult life. Specifically they illustrate how discontinuity (or continuity that does not meet the child’s needs), a lack of appropriate social support for both the child and surviving parent and a failure to provide clear and honest information at appropriate time points relevant to the child’s level of understanding was perceived to have a negative impact in adulthood with regards to trust, relationships, self-esteem, feeling of self-worth loneliness and isolation and the ability to express feelings. A model is suggested for identifying and supporting those that may be more vulnerable to less favorable outcomes in adult life.
The findings suggest that if the negative consequences are to be minimized it is crucial that guidelines for ‘best practice’ that recognize the complex nature of the bereavement experience are followed.
Another study that was published in The American Journal of Psychiatry looked at the brains of several people and noted that grief itself is “mediated by a distributed neural network that subserves affect processing, mentalizing, episodic memory retrieval, processing of familiar faces, visual imagery, autonomic regulation, and modulation/coordination of these functions.” This feeds into the health issues and so forth that come with this kind of emotion in general. Losing a parent can lead to increased risks of long-term emotional abuse and so many other issues.
Psychology Today wrote as follows regarding the effects of losing a parent:
Losing a parent in childhood significantly raises the risk of developing mental health issues and about one in 20 children aged 15 and younger have suffered the loss of one or both parents.
Another factor that influences the development of mental health issues is the person’s perception of their closeness to the deceased and how much the loss changes their lives. This is not to say that people don’t experience feelings of grief if they lose a parent they didn’t feel close to, get along with, or know well — that loss may still be felt quite deeply.
Survey data on the long-term effects of parental loss indicate that filial bereavement can impact both mental and physical health, with men being more likely to report physical health issues. Data also show that gender influences the impact of parental death — men who lose their father appear to experience the loss more keenly than daughters, while women who lose their mother appear to be more deeply impacted than sons.
When someone loses a parent or even a loved one, in general, they need to move forward in their own ways. They cannot just ‘get over it’ at any point, it is something they have to work through and figure out how to live with.