Content warning: This story includes discussions of self-harm, suicide, and death. On July 31, Euphoria star Angus Cloud passed away in his home in Oakland, California. Cloud, who was most known for his role in Euphoria, was only 25 years old and had attended his father’s funeral last week in Ireland. It’s reported that Cloud struggled intensely with the loss.
Cloud’s untimely death is a reminder that coping with parental loss at a young age is complex and challenging, and almost impossible to cope with. Unfortunately, parental loss is becoming more common for young people, as 10.5 million children lost one or both parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Post reported.
I spoke with three mental health experts — Sydney Bronstein, Jason Drake, and Bayu Prihandito — about the toll that parental loss can have on Gen Zers, and here’s what I learned about the coping process.
Processing grief is unique for everyone.
Everyone has different ways of expressing their emotions, and this is true for those dealing with parental loss too. It’s important to express how you’re feeling when grieving rather than holding it in, as avoiding your feelings can cause issues like emotional or physical illness.
Because the process isn’t the same for everyone, “it’s essential to remember that grief isn’t linear; it’s okay to have good and bad days,” says Bayu Prihandito, a psychology expert and life coach.
Generation Z is defined as anyone born between 1997 and 2012, with the oldest Gen Zers being 26 years old, USA Today reported. Many Gen Zers, like myself, don’t have a fully developed frontal lobe, and it’s perfectly normal to still depend on your parents during this time. However, because many Gen Zers still rely on their parents, the loss may “intensify the grief due to the significant role parents play in a child’s development,” Prihandito says.
It’s important to take this time to really focus on yourself and what you think will help you heal, like rereading a favorite book or even creating a memory garden.
Embrace the activities that you already love.
Although it’s important to avoid ignoring your emotions, it may be helpful to distract yourself for a few hours by doing something you enjoy doing.
“Engaging in creative activities, like art or writing, can also help them process their emotions,” says Sydney Bronstein, a licensed clinical social worker. “On the other hand, it’s essential to recognize and avoid unhealthy coping methods, such as excessive alcohol or substance use, self-harm, or isolating oneself from loved ones.”
These activities aren’t meant to completely distract you from grieving, but they can give you something to look forward to that day. It may be time to create your own spa day or watch a favorite holiday movie.
It doesn’t matter what your favorite activity is, all that matters is that it’s bringing you a sense of joy during a difficult time.
Open up to a trusted friend, loved one, or therapist.
In the days following a parent’s death, it can be extremely hard to open up to people about how you’re feeling or coping with the loss, and that’s to be expected. You don’t have to talk to people that day or the next day, but it’s important to open up when you’re ready.
“In order to fully complete the grieving process, it’s important to let yourself experience the hurt,” says Jason Drake, a licensed clinical social worker. “Lean on others during this time and share the hurt with them. This can help facilitate healing when another person can be there to provide support for you.”
It may feel uncomfortable to speak with a family member about your loss because they’re probably experiencing similar emotions as you are. If that’s the case it’s important to find someone new to talk to, like a therapist or one of your close friends (just be sure to avoid trauma dumping).
“Holding in the painful emotions and difficult thoughts can build like a pressure cooker,” Drake says. “Those thoughts and feelings want to come out, and if you hold them in for too long they can explode in messy ways. This can include self-harm behavior, alcohol use or abuse, drug abuse, or risky sexual behavior.”
By opening up and sharing your experience, you’re theoretically releasing some of the tension off of that emotional pressure cooker.
For anyone who is completely uncomfortable with speaking to people about their feelings, there is also the option of online grief support groups, Healthline reported. These meetings usually offer live chats, private Facebook groups, and workshops; many of them are also free or offer free resources.
Processing grief will never look the same for anyone, but leaning back on your support system — whether it’s a therapist, friends, or an online grief support group — does make a difference. It’s okay to do things, like reaching out to others or participating in familiar activities, on your timeline, but staying active and keeping yourself occupied might be a key part of grieving.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.