The Death of a Parent Affects Even Grown Children Psychologically and Physically

Grief is both real and measurable. Scientists now know that losing a parent changes us forever.

The death of a parent is one of the most emotional and universal human experiences. If a person doesn’t know what it’s like to deal with the loss of a father or mother, they most likely will one day. But just because the passing of a parent happens to almost everyone doesn’t make it any easier. The death of a parent is not just traumatic, it informs and changes their children biologically and psychologically. It can even make them sick.

“In the best-case scenario, the death of a parent is anticipated and there’s time for families to prepare, say their goodbyes, and surround themselves with support,” psychiatrist Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi says. “In cases where a death is unexpected, such as with an acute illness or traumatic accident, adult children may remain in the denial and anger phases of the loss for extended periods of time…[leading to] diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder or even PTSD, if trauma is involved.”

There’s no amount of data that can capture how distinctly painful and powerful this grief is. That said, there are a number of psychological and brain-imaging studies that demonstrate the magnitude of this loss. The posterior cingulate cortex, frontal cortex, and cerebellum are all brain regions mobilized during grief processing, research shows. These regions are involved in storing memories and dwelling on the past, but they’re also involved in regulating sleep and appetite.

In the short term, neurology assures us that loss will trigger physical distress. In the long-term, grief puts the entire body at risk. A handful of studies have found links between unresolved grief and hypertension, cardiac events, immune disorders, and even cancer. It is unclear why grief would trigger such dire physical conditions, but one theory is that a perpetually activated sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) can cause long-term genetic changes. These changes — less pre-programmed cell death, dampened immune responses — may be ideal when a bear is chasing you through the forest and you need all the healthy cells you can get. But this sort of cellular dysregulation is also how cancerous cells metastasize, unchecked. 

While the physical symptoms are relatively consistent, the psychological impacts are all but unpredictable. In the twelve months following the loss of a parent, the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders considers it healthy for adults who have lost their parents to experience a range of contradictory emotions, including sadness, anger, rage, anxiety, numbness, emptiness, guilt, remorse, and regret. It is normal to withdraw from friends and activities; it is normal to throw oneself into work.

As ever, context matters. Sudden, violent death puts survivors at higher risk of developing a grief disorder, and when an adult child has a fractured relationship with a parent, the death can be doubly painful — even if the bereaved shuts down and pretends not to feel the loss. “Coping is less stressful when adult children have time to anticipate parental death,” Omojola says. “Not being able to say goodbye contributes to feeling depressed and angry.” This may explain why studies have shown that young adults are more affected by parental loss than middle-aged adults. Presumably, their parents died unexpectedly, or at least earlier than average.

Gender, of both the parent and child, can especially influence the contours of the grief response.

Studies suggest that daughters have more intense grief responses than sons, but men who lose their parents may be slower to move on. “Males tend to show emotions less and compartmentalize more,” Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author, told Fatherly. 

“These factors do affect the ability to accept and process grief.” Studies have also shownthat loss of a father is more associated with the loss of personal mastery — purpose, vision, belief, commitment, and knowing oneself. Losing a mother, on the other hand, elicits a more raw response. “Many people report feeling a greater sense of loss when a mother dies,” Manly says. “This can be attributed to the often close, nurturing nature of the mother-child relationship.”

At the same time, the differences between losing a father and a mother represent relatively weak trends. “Complicated bereavement can exist no matter which parent is lost,” Benders-Hadi says. “More often, it is dependent on the relationship and bond that existed with the parent.”

Grief becomes pathological, according to the DSM, when the bereaved are so overcome that they are unable to carry on with their lives.Preliminary studies suggest this occurs in about 1 percent of the healthy population, and about 10 percent of the population that had previously been diagnosed with a stress disorder. “A diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder is made within three months of the death if there is a ‘persistence of grief reactions’ exceeding what’s normal for the culture and the religion,” Omojola says. “In this situation, the grieving adult has severe challenges meeting social, occupational, and other expected, important life functions.” Even adults who are able to go to work and put on a brave face may be suffering a clinical condition if they remain preoccupied with the death, deny that their parent has died, or actively avoid reminders of their parents, indefinitely. This condition, known as Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder, is a trickier diagnosis to pin down (the DSM labeled it a “condition for further study”).

Elisabeth Goldberg works with grieving adults as a relationship therapist in New York City, and she has seen the toll that long-term grieving can take on a marriage. Specifically, Goldberg suggests a (somewhat Freudian) link between losing a parent and cheating on a spouse. “I see many affairs as manifestations of unresolved grief about losing a parent,” Goldberg says. “The adult child stays in a state of disbelief, and rejects reality in many ways in order to feed the delusion that the parent is still alive. The grieving child needs a new attachment figure, that’s the psyche trying to reconcile the denial and grief. So rather than say, ‘My mother died,’ the grieving child can say, ‘While Mommy’s away, I will play with someone other than my spouse.’”

In more concrete — and dire — terms, unresolved grief can spiral into anxiety and depression. This is especially true when the parent dies by suicide, according to Lyn Morris, a licensed therapist and VP at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services. “Adults who lose a parent to suicide often struggle with complex emotions such as guilt, anger, and feelings of abandonment and vulnerability,” she told Fatherly. Indeed a 2010 study out of Johns Hopkins University confirmed that losing a parent to suicide makes children more likely to die by suicide themselves.

How to cope in a healthy way remains an active area of scientific inquiry. Ross Grossman, a licensed therapist who specializes in adult grief, has identified several “main distorted thoughts” that infect our minds when we face adversity. Two of the most prominent are “I should be perfect” and “they should have treated me better” — and they tug in opposite directions. “These distorted thoughts can easily arise in the wake of a loved one’s death,” Grossman says.

When a son or daughter reflects on how he or she should have treated a deceased parent, “I should be perfect” thoughts tend to rise to the surface. Grossman’s patients often feel that they should have done more and, “because they didn’t do any or all of these things, they are low-down, dirty, awful, terrible human beings,” he says. “These kinds of thoughts, if left undisputed, usually result in a feeling of low self-worth, low self-esteem, shame, self-judgment, self-condemnation.”

On the opposite extreme, patients sometimes blame their deceased parents for not treating them properly, and never making amends. This is similarly unhealthy. “The usual result of this is deep resentment, anger, rage,” Grossman says. “They may have genuine, legitimate reasons to feel mistreated or abused. In these situations, it’s not always the death of the parent but the death of the possibility of reconciliation, of rapprochement and apology from the offending parent.”

“The possibility has died along with the person.”

In extreme cases, therapy may be the only way to get a grieving son or daughter back on his or her feet. But time, and an understanding spouse, can go a long way toward helping adults get through this unpleasant, yet ubiquitous, chapter in their lives. “Husbands can best support their wives by listening,” Manly says. “Men often feel helpless in the face of their wives’ emotions, and they want to fix the situation. A husband can do far more good by sitting with his wife, listening to her, holding her hand, taking her for walks, and — if she desires — visiting the burial site.” Via Fatherly (Health & Science / Psycology) by Joshua A. Krisch.

xoxo,

Janice

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You May Want to Marry My Husband.

I have been trying to write this for a while, but the morphine and lack of juicy cheeseburgers (what has it been now, five weeks without real food?) have drained my energy and interfered with whatever prose prowess remains. Additionally, the intermittent micronaps that keep whisking me away midsentence are clearly not propelling my work forward as quickly as I would like. But they are, admittedly, a bit of trippy fun. Still, I have to stick with it, because I’m facing a deadline, in this case, a pressing one. I need to say this (and say it right) while I have a) your attention, and b) a pulse.
I have been married to the most extraordinary man for 26 years. I was planning on at least another 26 together. Want to hear a sick joke? A husband and wife walk into the emergency room in the late evening on Sept. 5, 2015. A few hours and tests later, the doctor clarifies that the unusual pain the wife is feeling on her right side isn’t the no-biggie appendicitis they suspected but rather ovarian cancer.

As the couple head home in the early morning of Sept. 6, somehow through the foggy shock of it all, they make the connection that today, the day they learned what had been festering, is also the day they would have officially kicked off their empty-nestering. The youngest of their three children had just left for college. So many plans instantly went poof. No trip with my husband and parents to South Africa. No reason, now, to apply for the Harvard Loeb Fellowship. No dream tour of Asia with my mother. No writers’ residencies at those wonderful schools in India, Vancouver, Jakarta. No wonder the word cancer and cancel look so similar. This is when we entered what I came to think of as Plan “Be,” existing only in the present. As for the future, allow me to introduce you to the gentleman of this article, Jason Brian Rosenthal. He is an easy man to fall in love with. I did it in one day. 

Let me explain: My father’s best friend since summer camp, “Uncle” John, had known Jason and me separately our whole lives, but Jason and I had never met. I went to college out east and took my first job in California. When I moved back home to Chicago, John — who thought Jason and I were perfect for each other — set us up on a blind date. It was 1989. We were only 24. I had precisely zero expectations about this going anywhere. But when he knocked on the door of my little frame house, I thought, “Uh-oh, there is something highly likable about this person.” By the end of dinner, I knew I wanted to marry him. Jason? He knew a year later. I have never been on Tinder, Bumble or eHarmony, but I’m going to create a general profile for Jason right here, based on my experience of coexisting in the same house with him for, like, 9,490 days. 

First, the basics: He is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and hazel eyes. The following list of attributes is in no particular order because everything feels important to me in some way. He is a sharp dresser. Our young adult sons, Justin and Miles, often borrow his clothes. Those who know him — or just happen to glance down at the gap between his dress slacks and dress shoes — know that he has a flair for fabulous socks. He is fit and enjoys keeping in shape. If our home could speak, it would add that Jason is uncannily handy. On the subject of food — man, can he cook. After a long day, there is no sweeter joy than seeing him walk in the door, plop a grocery bag down on the counter, and woo me with olives and some yummy cheese he has procured before he gets to work on the evening’s meal. Jason loves listening to live music; it’s our favorite thing to do together. I should also add that our 19-year-old daughter, Paris, would rather go to a concert with him than anyone else. When I was working on my first memoir, I kept circling sections my editor wanted me to expand upon. She would say, “I’d like to see more of this character.” Of course, I would agree — he was indeed a captivating character. But it was funny because she could have just said: “Jason. Let’s add more about Jason.”

He is an absolutely wonderful father. Ask anyone. See that guy on the corner? Go ahead and ask him; he’ll tell you. Jason is compassionate — and he can flip a pancake. Jason paints. I love his artwork. I would call him an artist except for the law degree that keeps him at his downtown office most days from 9 to 5. Or at least it did before I got sick. If you’re looking for a dreamy, let’s-go-for-it travel companion, Jason is your man. He also has an affinity for tiny things: taster spoons, little jars, a mini-sculpture of a couple sitting on a bench, which he presented to me as a reminder of how our family began. Here is the kind of man Jason is: He showed up at our first pregnancy ultrasound with flowers. This is a man who, because he is always up early, surprises me every Sunday morning by making some kind of oddball smiley face out of items near the coffeepot: a spoon, a mug, a banana.

This is a man who emerges from the minimart or gas station and says, “Give me your palm.” And, voilà, a colorful gumball appears. (He knows I love all the flavors but white.) My guess is you know enough about him now. So let’s swipe right. Wait. Did I mention that he is incredibly handsome? I’m going to miss looking at that face of his. If he sounds like a prince and our relationship seems like a fairy tale, it’s not too far off, except for all of the regular stuff that comes from two and a half decades of playing house together. And the part about me getting cancer. Blech. In my most recent memoir (written entirely before my diagnosis), I invited readers to send in suggestions for matching tattoos, the idea being that author and reader would be bonded by ink. I was totally serious about this and encouraged submitters to be serious as well. Hundreds poured in. A few weeks after publication in August, I heard from a 62-year-old librarian in Milwaukee named Paulette. She suggested the word “more.” This was based on an essay in the book where I mention that “more” was my first spoken word (true). And now it may very well be my last (time shall tell). In September, Paulette drove down to meet me at a Chicago tattoo parlor. She got hers (her very first) on her left wrist. I got mine on the underside of my left forearm, in my daughter’s handwriting. This was my second tattoo; the first is a small, lowercase “j” that has been on my ankle for 25 years. You can probably guess what it stands for. Jason has one too, but with more letters: “AKR.” 

I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. But that is not going to happen. I probably have only a few days left being a person on this planet. So why I am doing this? I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins. I’ll leave this intentional empty space below as a way of giving you two the fresh start you deserve.

With all my love, Amy

Amy Krouse Rosenthal is the author of 28 children’s picture books and the recent memoir “Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.” She lives in Chicago. Via NYTimes. Note: Amy Krouse Rosenthal died on March 13, 2017, 10 days after this essay was published. You can read her obituary here https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/13/style/amy-krouse-rosenthal-dies-modern-love.html?mwrsm=Email

Janice xxxxx

Relax, Breathe & #LetGo And Live Your Life

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Earlier this year, folks at Sanctuary Spa U.K.-based beauty brand has created a beautiful reminder that life is more than just doing — it’s about being. Beyond Sanctuary’s obvious goal of selling its luxurious beauty products, the company also aims to task women with the simple — and free — act of letting go. They asked women about their lifestyle – nearly half said they were feeling moderately or extremely stressed & shockingly 40% feel like they’re about to burn out. They weren’t surprised, they feel it too.
From the everyday never-ending ‘to do’ lists to the pressure the media puts on us to be the ‘perfect woman’. We rush around trying to do more, be more, give more. But we don’t need to be like this 24/7, it’s not healthy. We need to #LetGo of all this pressure every now & again.
Sanctuary are on a mission to get women to Relax, Breathe and #LetGo. So they’ve created a film with advice from women who truly know the importance of stepping back every now and then and appreciating life’s precious moments. Watch this amazing video from the Sanctuary Spa. The U.K.-based beauty brand has created a beautiful reminder that life is more than just doing — it’s about being. Beyond Sanctuary’s obvious goal of selling its luxurious beauty products, the company also aims to task women with the simple — and free — act of letting go. Watch the amazing video below.

And now let it go #LetGo

xxxxxx,

Janice

The Most Powerful Way To Respond To Negative People

Most families have at least one relative whose modus operandi is to shoot people down. While your best approach may be avoidance, there are certain times of year when there’s no escaping these characters at big family gatherings.

On an episode of “Oprah’s Lifeclass,” television host and author Steve Harvey explains the best way to react to such negativity.

“That’s probably the most hurtful hurt there is, when it’s family that’s your critics and haters,” he says.

Whether the constant critique comes from a close sibling, a distant relative, a friend or even your own parent, Harvey has the same advice: Stop sharing your aspirations and goals with these people, period.

“You can’t tell big dreams to small-minded people,” he says. “You may have a person in your life who you can no longer take with you on the journey.”

Harvey, a once-homeless college drop-out who’s now a wildly successful Emmy Award winner, has used this strategy in his own life with powerful results. “I stop telling [negative] people everything that I think and want, because I know they can’t handle it,” he says simply.

In his book Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success, Harvey breaks down the different categories of haters that everyone should be on the lookout for, including the “I-hate-everything hater,” the “drag-you-down hater,” the “situational hater” and the “self-hate hater.” If you have any of these haters in your family or otherwise, Harvey says it’s time to remove them from that part of your life.

“When I share an idea with you and you don’t show me how to make that idea work — all your conversation is why it won’twork — I immediately end that conversation,” he explains. “I’m not interested in why it won’t work. That’s going to arise on the journey. I just need to know, can you feel what I’m saying, are you on board with it, do you have a suggestion how to make it work? The moment I hear, ‘Well, you know, I don’t think that’ll work,’ [I respond,] ‘OK, cool, thank you.’ And I’m gone.” Article from HuffPost.com

xoxo,

Janice