Effects of Parental Death

I was lying in bed with both of my daughters and our dog as we all watched an episode of The Goldbergs. I stopped looking at the TV for a moment and appreciated the scene. I looked at each of my girls’ faces. They were both smiling and laughing. They looked happy, and I believe they were. I love these girls with all my heart and that is all that a mother could want for her children – to be happy.

As it always does, my heart ached for a moment when I thought about the person missing from this scene – their dad. It has been six years since he passed away and, no matter how much time has gone by, it always will strike me as sad that he is not here with us.

Looking at them in my bed with our adorable little dog that night, I thought about how well they have been doing despite their tragic loss. There have been bumps in the road, some more difficult than others, but they have both been able to weather each storm and have made it through. I am beyond proud of them for this.

Observing my daughters that night, I began to think of the future – their future. Today, they are doing well, but what about tomorrow? Next year? Ten years?

I am their mother so I worry. The future is unknown for all, but I often wonder how the loss of their father, at only 10 and 12 years old, will affect them throughout their lives.

I began to do a little research.

When googling this question, I found all kinds of research with many different results.

I learned that the effects on children may depend largely on how the surviving parent communicates with them. Not too much pressure on us surviving parents!

I read that parental loss could lead to adult depression in women.

One study says these children could exhibit antisocial behavior.

Then, another study says that all of these findings are inconsistent.

I decided to ask an expert in my own house. My brilliant daughter Lily is taking a science research class in high school. She would like to become a neuroscientist. For this class, she needed to pick one subject to study for three years. She chose Effects of Parental Loss on Cortisol Levels in the Brain. I guess she is researching something that she wants to know.

These are Lily’s results:

Cortisol is a steroidal hormone that is responsible for regulating blood sugar, the functioning of the immune system, and the anti-stress response. Studies have found that adults experiencing childhood parental death had elevated cortisol levels in comparison to other adults. The elevated cortisol levels in adults experiencing childhood parental death makes them more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse, and more likely to feel anxious, nervous, and irritable when in stressful situations.

Lily will be researching this much further over the next two years of high school. She is hoping to bring more attention to this subject. I am beyond proud of my daughter for using her own loss to research something that eventually may be used to help others in a similar situation to her own.

I  must admit though, that this research worries me; PTSD, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse? Those are some frightening results. What can I, or anyone like me, do?

I wish there was a definitive answer to that question. All I can do is to be proactive when it is possible. I try to be sure that they get lots of love; from myself, as well as friends and family. I also truly believe that our dog is a huge help in the love area.

I have found amazing therapists who I take them to whenever they or I feel it is needed. Thankfully, the need has lessened over the years.

I try my best to keep a close eye on them without being too intrusive, which can be a difficult balance. I know that my mood sometimes depends on theirs, which is not a good thing.

I know that one day soon they will no longer be under my roof and I do not have control over their futures. Their loss has affected them greatly, I only hope that their lives are nothing but bright.

Who knows? Maybe Lily will discover a cure for elevated cortisol levels in the brain after parental loss. Then maybe she can explain to her mother what all of it means!

 

 

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Stacy

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