No one is ever fully prepared to lose a parent. Whether your parent passed away long ago or more recently, or was sudden or expected, life as you knew it will never be the same.
Finding a way to honor and memorialize a parent in a manner that feels authentic to you can help you process your grief and keep their memory alive. Below, we explore thoughtful ways to honor your parent’s life and legacy.
1. Take Care of Yourself
One of the first ways you can honor a parent is to take the time for self-care. Grief is a complex process and it doesn’t have a time limit. In order for you to be a better parent, partner, caregiver, or employee, you need to take the time to prioritize your mental and physical health as you recover from your loss.
Most parents spend their lifetime taking care of and worrying about the well-being of their children, so one of the best ways to honor a parent is to take care of yourself. Here are a few self-care tips:
- Get regular physical activity—it’s shown to reduce stress and promote better sleep.
- If you’re having trouble sleeping, develop a relaxing bedtime routine like taking a bath or reading a book. Try to limit screen time before bed which can overstimulate your nervous system.
- Don’t skip meals. Appetites often become suppressed when we are processing grief. Sometimes it’s easy to ‘forget to eat.’ Ensure you’re eating and drinking enough during the day to fuel your body, even if it’s nutritious snacks rather than full meals.
- Use hobbies you enjoy, like gardening, reading, meditating, drawing or listening to music to help you relax and reset.
- Talk about your feelings with family, friends or a mental health professional.
- Watch your alcohol consumption. Some people use alcohol to numb their feelings, but drinking in excess can have negative health consequences.
- Don’t isolate yourself from others. Allow friends and family to help you with errands, childcare, housework and meals.
2. Embrace Family Relationships
Parents are often the glue of a family. Children, both young and adult, may feel adrift when their parents are no longer alive. The loss of a parent can change your family dynamics in more ways than one. While you and your siblings are facing the same loss, their relationship with your mother or father may look different than yours did. Having open conversations about how to support your surviving parent, or how to carry out family traditions, can help smooth the transition to your family’s new normal.
If you disagreed over your parent’s care, final wishes or who received a family heirloom, you may be feeling disconnected or disappointed in your family. But if you really want to honor a lost parent, make an effort to strengthen your family bonds in whatever way feels genuine and realistic to you (more frequent phone calls, visits or family vacations). It’s likely what your parent would have wanted.
3. Continue to Celebrate Life Milestones
Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and other days like birthdays and the anniversary of a loved one’s death, can be especially hard for those who lost a parent. Even if you have your own family, celebrating these holidays may feel challenging. Honoring a parent, even after they’re gone, can help you maintain an important connection. Taking the time to celebrate and remember their life can be healing and a healthy outlet for your grief. Here are some ways you can honor a parent:
- Share memories and stories with family and friends. This can include keeping a journal, looking through photo albums or watching home movies.
- Display photographs around your home to help keep their memory and spirit alive.
- Plant a tree or garden in their memory. Tending to a garden can be especially therapeutic.
- Volunteer or contribute to a charity that was meaningful to them.
- Continue traditions that were important to your parent, like gathering together at the holidays.
- Create a keepsake like a memory quilt out of your parent’s old clothing or a piece of cremation jewelry with some of their remains.
- Schedule a time to watch their favorite movies or TV shows.
- Create a location, whether that’s a gravesite or a bench at the zoo, to honor their memory and serve as a place for loved ones to visit and reflect.
- Decorate your parent’s memorial with DIY headstone decor or a bouquet of flowers.
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