Singles Have A Harder Time Losing Parents


I wrote before about caring for aging parents and how the responsibility usually falls to the single child. As we all know, the period of time spent care taking elderly parents must come to an end; eventually, we all go to meet our maker. What happens next in a grieving family is a very different experience for the single children as it is for the married children.

This morning one of my best friends buried his beloved mother. She was an art teacher, and in fact when she retired from her position at a New York City public school, I was the one to replace her. They were some very big shoes to fill, as all my students reminded me. Meanwhile, her son and I bonded quickly; and more than 10 years later, we are still as tightly bound. 

He is one of her seven children. However, he is single with no children of his own. It occurred to me while he walked behind her casket that his bereavement period was going to be far removed from that of his married siblings. They all have their spouses and families to cling to. He has only me and his close circle of friends.

So how do singles deal with grief? How, in our pair-bonded world, can we cope with our compounded loss? This is a difficult, if not impossible, situation. But I think this is a time when singles should look to their friends more than ever. True friends will not let us grieve alone. I used to think the same thing about boyfriends, but after today, I am re-thinking my conviction.

A decade ago, a boyfriend refused to accompany me to my grandmother’s funeral. I should have taken that as a sign.

I didn’t.

I dedicated seven more futile months to try to make it work.

It didn’t. 

In stark contrast, when my father passed a few years ago, my ex-husband made himself available at all times. It spoke to his unfailing support, loving kindness, generosity of spirit and his unquestionable capacity for forgiveness. This is a man who proved his friendship, despite the reality of a failed partnership.

When my dear friend texted me the link to his mother’s obituary, there was no question that I would be there, both for him and for myself. I would not consider myself a good friend if I didn’t pay my respects. And I never want him, or any friends, to feel what I felt when that old boyfriend refused to see me through my bereavement.

During the funeral Mass, I kept sending my dear friend knowing looks as his siblings hugged their spouses and children. It hurt me to see him looking straight ahead, hands folded in front of him. At the sign of peace, I made my way over to him and hugged him tight.

“You’re not alone,” I whispered.

He hugged me tighter. For the burial and the repast, I stayed right next to him, tissues in hand. We got through a tearful day with our friendship strengthened and deepened.

I thought back to that old boyfriend and it occurred to me that he did me a favor. In retrospect, he didn’t belong there. Death in a family is an intimate experience; one that should not be shared with casual friends or people we are dating.

Just a few minutes ago he texted me: “I could never have gotten through this day without you.” I know he is being truthful, and it makes me proud to be his friend.

If you are single and going through a profound loss, I urge you to turn to your true friends rather than try to depend on a beau, especially if the relationship is a new one. It may put unnecessary strain on the relationship, and your beau may feel pressured. This is not a situation that should be used to test someone’s level of commitment to us. Instead, cling to the love of long-established friends. They are your true reminders that you are not alone. 



  1. Michael-103196 October 18, 2012 Reply

    It is extremely difficult to bury a family member when you are by yourself. I had to bury my sister 2 years ago and I didn’t have a single relative to help me out in any way. I had to rely on her friends to help with the funeral arrangements. But after the funeral I had to go home alone and grieve by myself for a full month alone. Our cousins even though they live locally never did visit her in hospice as she lie dying. I was so burnt out caring for her and I didn’t have the energy to have a Requiem mass said for her. I did have the graces to have Gregorian masses said and I have a novena of masses said for her several times a year. I fully reliaze that I must keep going on because I am the only left to prayer for her soul and my mother’s soul. I God has indeed given me enormous graces because of the prayers I can pray for them.

  2. Regina-401090 July 28, 2012 Reply

    Admittedly, I am slowly recovering from the recent loss of my mother and brother. I am thankful that my Mother’s family has included me in all of their family gatherings over the past several months. Without their support, I’m not certain how I would have made it through very difficult times.

  3. Michele-878526 July 18, 2012 Reply

    So true. I too, am the youngest of 7 children and I just lost my dad in March. All of my siblings are either married or they at least have children, and I am alone. It is true that I wouldn’t have made it through these last few months without my friends. It doesn’t mater how old you are, when you lose a parent it is one of the toughest things you can go through. I’m slowly feeling better everyday, but I know it will take a while.

  4. Lucia-551179 July 17, 2012 Reply

    It’s been seven months to the day since my father died, which is also nine months to the day I met my current CM boyfriend. This community went above and beyond to give me friendship and comfort at the hardest time of my life. Thanks for writing!

  5. Brenda-74660 July 14, 2012 Reply

    Very touching, loss of any kind is a difficult time. Last summer when my son passed away the church was over flowing with people and I have been blessed finding how many true friends I have in my life. The compassion & help of others have continued to bless my life.

  6. Jacqueline-198 July 12, 2012 Reply

    Losing a parent is hard enough, I’ve been to a few funerals where peers have lost a parent or loved ones and it always reminds me that eventually that will be me, what’s tougher to think about is that I am an only child therefore no siblings around and the relatives I do have are spread out, it’s hard enough but compounded by your singleness, well I shudder to think it, thank God for faith and church family and true friends.

    • Bharat Kumar K. September 4, 2012 Reply

      Dear Jacqueline,

      It is true, the pain experienced by a single child who has lost parent is describable. I have recently lost him and the pain lingers in me . Just cannot stop wailing.

  7. Carlos-876737 July 11, 2012 Reply

    Hard. It becomes harder when you don’t have any true friends. Maybe siblings will do. Maybe.

  8. Angela-304987 July 11, 2012 Reply

    This was a touching article with a lot of good advice. Thank you for writing it.

    • Angela-304987 March 10, 2013 Reply

      I am glad I read this then…my father just passed away less than 2 weeks ago. I am not sure if there is a time that compares to the loneliness you feel when a parent dies.

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