Ways to Help Someone Grieve the Loss of an Estranged Parent

We laid my father-in-law to rest this past weekend and I was really taken back by something the pastor talked about.

He mentioned a quote about the “rear view mirror” that he saw on my father-in-law’s Facebook.

Now, my husband and I would never know because we’re not friends with his dad on Facebook. In fact, he and my mother-in-law have had me blocked for years.

The last time we saw them was 14 years ago. They’ve never met our youngest daughter. They’ve definitely never met our two granddaughters.

Meaning, our kids have never known them as grandparents. They really don’t know them at all.

Back to this quote though. I couldn’t recall the exact one he quoted, and couldn’t check his Facebook, so I found this quote from Joel Osteen (whom I shall reserve an opinion on) on the same topic:

You need to let go of what didn’t work out. Let go of your hurts and pains. Let go of your mistakes and failures.

You can’t do anything about the past, but you can do something about right now. Whether it happened twenty minutes ago or twenty years ago, let go of the hurts and failures and move forward. If you keep bringing the negative baggage from yesterday into today, your future will be poisoned.

You can’t change what’s happened to you.

Joel Osteen

First, I feel like that goes against everything I’ve been taught in the church.

That stuff we’re taught about “forgiveness” and all.

Not to mention, the Bible specifically says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

Therefore, I’m a bit torn here.

Sometimes I feel like it’s worth it to take a glance in that rear view mirror, admit that there are things you can change, forgiveness to be had, and lives that can be changed.

vintage photo of old theme park ride with young boy and dad in wire basket

In this situation, he could have enjoyed SIX grandchildren, instead of only ONE, and had the pleasure of loving on two GREAT-granddaughters.

So, as much as my husband and I have moved on and accepted the way things were after YEARS of trying, I’m not sure how to feel about this.

Sometimes it just seems a glance back may not be the worst move you can make. But maybe that’s just me.

We’ve resolved to the fact that our kids will never have that relationship with Colby’s family, but it doesn’t mean we don’t grieve that loss of what can never be.

For now, I’ll help Colby walk through his grief journey, however that may look for him, and know that we can get through anything together. We simply always have.

Ways to Help Someone Grieve the Loss of an Estranged Parent

After I lost my mom, we talked about what it might look like for Colby when he lost one of his parents. We’ve discovered, just as we presumed, that grief over an estranged parent is very complicated.

Therefore, I did a little research on

ways to help someone grieve the loss of an estranged parent

so I can help Colby through the process.

Here are a few tips for grieving an estranged parent:

  • Give them space to grieve in their own way. No matter the situation, they have still experienced loss and should be allowed to mourn that loss. The opportunity to rebuild the relationship with the parent is gone, but they’ve already been dealing with the loss in another way for (in our case at least) years before.
  • Listen. Talking things out can be good for the soul. Whether it’s reliving memories of their parent, ranting about what went wrong, or what might have been, they need a listening ear.
  • Acknowledge any feelings they may have. In addition to normal grieving, those in strained relationships may feel a lot of remorse and grief over “what could have been.” Sometimes the best thing to say is as easy as, “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.
  • Be respectful. Now is the perfect time to remember that age old mantra, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
  • Respect their choice to attend the funeral or not. Whether invited or simply responding to a public obituary, they have the right to attend a memorial service unless otherwise asked not to.
  • Give them time. Time to grieve, process their emotions, and move forward. There is no real expectation for grief, no matter how strained the relationship was. Grief is a complex emotion with several stages and layers. No two grief journeys are identical. Allow them to walk at their own pace and simply accompany them down the path.

It’s been almost four years since I lost my mom and I’m still working through the process. This loss brought up a lot of those emotions, as well as my own feelings about this relationship in my own life.

I’ve known the man for 30 years and have my own memories of him, but, for now, I’m focusing on Colby and his grief. My feelings are something completely different and we’ve talked through those already.

Colby remains our top priority as he struggles with exactly how to feel. He’s only had two small “breakdown moments” so far and has told me he’s had 14 years to grieve the loss of his parents. If anything, he finally feels a bit of closure. And that’s okay too.

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