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Grieving the Loss of an Adult Son

Updated on November 14, 2014

A Mother's Tears

No grief is worse than that of the loss of a child. The famous Pieta, the marble sculpture by Michelangelo, depicts the grieving Mary holding the body of her son, the crucified Christ, in her arms.

I recall marveling at this masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance when I visited the Vatican at age eighteen. 'How terrible,' I recall thinking, 'to lose one's son at the age of thirty-three.' Little did I know that forty-one years later I, too, would be mourning the loss of my son -- just weeks shy of his thirty-fourth birthday.

"The Scream"
"The Scream"

A Lifetime of Grief

I sometimes think I was born grieving. Nine years before my birth, my parents lost their baby girl Joan to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. My brother, Paul, was two-years-old at the time.

Throughout my childhood I was aware of my ghost sibling. Whenever I was seriously ill, I felt her presence. (Mumps, chicken pox and measles were common occurrences throughout my 1950s childhood.)

I was a college freshman when my brother broke the news that our dad, at age fifty-one, had died of a heart attack. My brother himself was to die of a heart attack at age forty-two. One day after my forty-fourth birthday, my mother died of cancer. She was seventy-one.

I was an adult orphan without siblings.

After all this loss, including a battle with an aggressive breast cancer, I felt I had paid my dues. Surely nothing more would wreak havoc with my hurting soul. Or so I thought...

Sons are the anchors of a mother's life. -- Sophocles

A Premonition Followed By...

...The Phone Call Every Parent Dreads

On a Thursday night in May 2011 my husband called from Tucson, Arizona where he was visiting with our son. He informed me that our son, Adrian Paul, had decided to skip his Bible study class to meet up with a friend.

I wanted to say 'No, don't let him go. Say whatever you need to to talk him out of it!' But the words would not come. I felt my throat tighten and a shooting pain go through my heart.

I hung up my phone. I told myself I was over-reacting. I turned on the TV and happened upon a documentary on near-death experiences.

The next morning I received the phone call every parent dreads: "Your son is in the ICU. The next twenty-four hours will tell."

By the early morning hours of Sunday, Adrian was gone and his organs were already transplanted into five people -- A ray of hope amidst the unspeakable sorrow.

Several days later my husband returned home, our son's cremated remains in his carry-on luggage. Having grieved the untimely deaths of my father and brother, I did not want to see our sweet boy laid out in a casket.

Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World - by Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph.D.

Following Adrian's death, I found myself reading the Bible, my book of Catholic devotions -- anything that I felt would help see me through this nightmare. "Seven Choices" turned out to be the best of the books given to me by friends. The author was widowed at a young age. Her journey to regaining a "new normal" is pertinent to all types of bereavement, not just the mourning associated with the death of a child.

Seven Choices: Finding Daylight after Loss Shatters Your World
Seven Choices: Finding Daylight after Loss Shatters Your World

A road map for all who bereave. A variety of parents who lost children comment on each step of the seven choices -- 1. Impact: Experiencing the Unthinkable. 2. Second Crisis: Stumbling in the Dark. 3. Observation: Linking Past to Present. 4. The Turn: Turning Into the Wind. 5. Reconstruction: Picking Up the Pieces. 6. Working Through: Finding Solid Ground. 7. Integration: Daylight. Included is an addendum on helping children and teens deal with loss.


Fathers and Sons - By Ivan Turgenev

Novels by the great storytellers of nineteenth - century Russia -- e.g., Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky -- have always spoken to my soul. Without exception is Ivan Turgenev's masterpiece "Fathers and Sons." Students of Russian will know that Turgenev originally titled his book "Fathers and Children." However one translates the title, this moving story of the relationships among two friends and their respective fathers offers hope to those mourning the death of a child, in particular the loss of an adult son.

Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics)
Fathers and Sons (Oxford World's Classics)

Part of the novel's finale reads: "There's a little village graveyard in one remote corner of Russia...Two feeble old people come frequently from a nearby village to visit (the grave) -- a man and his wife. They walk with a heavy step, supporting each other; when they approach the railing, they fall on their knees and remain there for a long time, weeping bitterly, gazing attentively at the headstone under which their son lies buried; they exchange a few words, brush the dust off the stone, move a branch of the pine tree, and pray once again; they can't forsake this place where they seem to feel closer to their son, to their memories of him...Can it really be that love, sacred, devoted love is not all-powerful? Oh, no! However passionate, sinful, rebellious the heart buried in the grave, the flowers growing on it look out at us serenely with their innocent eyes: they tell us not only of that eternal peace, that great peace of "indifferent" nature; they tell us also of eternal reconciliation and life everlasting..."


Links to Online Resources - May These Be Helpful to Those Who Mourn

In searching the internet, I tried to come up with helpful links to articles and/or webpages that may be of help to the grieving parent.

Jesus: a Biography from a Believer - by Paul Johnson

A few days before the accidental death of Adrian, my husband picked up a copy of Johnson's biography of Jesus. In the days following our son's death, we were both moved to tears by this book.

Jesus: A Biography, from a Believer
Jesus: A Biography, from a Believer

The night before my son died I had a troubling premonition. A week later I read these words from Johnson's biography: " We find it curious that Jesus's warnings against betrayal did not alarm the eleven apostles more: for their lives, too, were at risk...It might have been different if women had been present at the Last Supper. They were more sensitive to these hints: to signs and dreams, to sighs and evidence of worry on Jesus's part..."


If I have a monument in this world, it is my son. -- Maya Angelou

Your Soul's Plan - by Robert Schwartz

There are those who believe that our souls reincarnate, that we choose our future lives before birth. That is what this book explores.

Your Soul's Plan: Discovering the Real Meaning of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born
Your Soul's Plan: Discovering the Real Meaning of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born

I recommend this book to those open to New Age concepts. Its section on "Death of a Loved One" brought me comfort. Personally I gain the most comfort from the place where the circle of traditional Christianity intersects with the circle of New Age philosophies.


Letters from Heaven: Comfort for Those Who are Hurting - by Claire Cloninger

This treasure of a book was a gift from a dear friend.

Letters From Heaven
Letters From Heaven

A book of meditations and letters from God to his aching, grieving child -- the reader. A favorite: "My child, Take comfort in this fact: You are in Me, and I am in you. This is a profound mystery and a secret that is known only by those who invite Me into their hearts."


Rest in Peace, Dear Son

Adrian, you are loved and missed by many. We remember your natural athleticism, your inimitable writing style, your sharp wit. So many have spoken of your unconditional love. You are in our hearts forever. June 9, 1977 to May 15, 2011.

Heaven is for Real - grieving the loss of an adult son

In December 2012 I read this account of a little boy's near-death experience. I recommend it but with one caveat: Some readers may be uncomfortable off by the book's claim that one has to find Jesus to attain Heaven in the afterlife.

The Last Photo - grace and healing

On Dec. 21, 2011 -- the winter solstice -- I discovered this photo of Adrian on his computer. Dated Feb. 27, 2011, this lovely snapshot may be the last photo ever taken of our son.

Thank you for visiting my webpage on grieving the loss of an Adult Son.

Comments from You, Dear Reader

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    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Lovely tribute----- from someone who has walked in the same shoes `~~~Blessed~~~~

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @Joyce Mann: Thank you so much, I can't even start explaining how comforting your words are. You are an angel. I'm so angry at God but he is my only comfort...I think my faith kept my sane. Hugs back to you.

    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 5 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      @anonymous: Nissimlko, words can't express how sorry I am for your loss. I hope you will take the time to check out some of the resources I listed here. Compassionate Friends is the best organization, in my opinion, to help those who have lost a child of any age. If you are comfortable in doing so, a psychic medium may be of help. I've included a link to Ron Reeder, The Man who talks to Angels. Let me know if I can help in any other way. Hugs to you, Joyce

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I read your lens, and could not stop crying. well, i'm crying every day for over a year since I lost my daughter 13 months ago. she was 21 and had already 2 birthdays since. she died in her sleep on Nov. 3rd 2011. 2 weeks before her 22 bd. It is the worst of pain. It gave me a new life, life I never of constant pain, guilt, regrets and not understanding...sometimes I slap my face so hard wanting to wake up of this horror dream. sorry for your lose.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 5 years ago from Northern California

      Thought I had already blessed this one. Blessings (re-Blessing)

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 5 years ago

      I can't begin to fathom losing my son. A sweet, loving tribute you have here. Angel blessings to you.

    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 5 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      @anonymous: Dave -- I am so grieved to learn of the loss of your beloved son.I will keep you all in my prayers. I do hope you will seek the help of an organization such as Compassionate Friends. Hugs to you, Dave, and your family. Joyce

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      We lost of 29 year old son on 7/4/2012. Our family is in severe pain and grief and are still in disbelief that our beloved son and brother is gone.

    • rawwwwwws lm profile image

      rawwwwwws lm 5 years ago

      I understand you pain, I too have lost a loved one. It seems even though time passes by, I still catch myself crying at upset. May God continue to bless you, my prayers go out to you. God bless!

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      A sweet tribute to your son and lots of helful advice. Blessed.

    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 5 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      @anonymous: Peg, I was thinking of you on March 10th. Blessings to you.

    • MBradley McCauley profile image

      MBradley McCauley 5 years ago

      I share your hurt. My son was 44 when he died after a car accident coming home from his daughter's soccer tournament. That was six years ago. His wife and three daughters, one who was in the car with him, are doing fine and I am happy to say, so am I. I also wrote a lens about him and how his death made me a true believer in life after death. My thoughts are with you and may you feel your son't presence when you need him there.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My son was killed in a car accident on Sept 30th, I do feel your pain, his 33rd birthday would have been March 10th, I don't know how to get through this day..

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

      You have had a lot of sadness in your life but I am glad you were able to share it with us here on Squidoo. Thank you for bringing this lens to my attention - there are a lot of good books on it and thanks for commenting on my LOTD. Blessings to you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I can only try to feel the pain that you would have gone through! Sharing is caring... Keep well. :)

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you for sharing your story.

    • profile image

      moonlitta 5 years ago

      Deepest condolences. My mother lost her brother at 38 (his age). Their mother (now 76) never recuperated from this.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 5 years ago from Northern California

      Angel blessings for sharing your story.

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 5 years ago from England

      Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. Even though not much time has passed, I hope each day is a little less painful for you. I am so sorry for your loss. ~~Blessed~~

    • BlogsWriter profile image

      BlogsWriter 5 years ago

      I hope you come out from the grief and the loss. I am sure he is in peace wherever he is. I understand the grief of loved ones gone who will stay in our hearts forever.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 5 years ago

      What a loss for you. I got that phone call in the night too, but it was about a massive TBI, tbispeakstothesenate, and I feel for your great pains. Loss of a child hurt for a lifetime. thanks for sharing

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      I am so sorry that you have endured so much pain in your life. The loss of your son less than a year ago must be so fresh and yet you had the words to make this beautiful lens. He was born just 6 months before me. I have 5 children of my own, 3 sons, and I can't imagine the pain of losing one of them. I will pray for you and your family as you walk through your grief and healing.

    • IngridA1 profile image

      IngridA1 5 years ago

      Your words have touched my heart. You certainly have had more than your share of loss even before your son passed this plane. I'm so sorry, as a mom to three children myself I cannot imagine how utterly devastating it was losing him. Blessings sweet lady.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Very nicely done and blessed! Wow, you have a LOTD early one. Congrats. My parents lost their son (me) once, I was at the store and wandered off to the toy section, imagine that? Well, my dad didn't lose me when he was giving me a whoopin! ha!

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 6 years ago

      My deepest sympathy on the loss of your son. I'm sure this lens will help others who are suffering from the loss of a child.

    • profile image

      Ruthi 6 years ago

      Joyce, my momma heart goes out to you as I feel your loss through your words. There is not a thing even remotely resembling mother and child love and, I am sorry, there is not a thing I can say to spare you any part of this feeling of loss. I will say, Thank you. Thank you for sharing your pain and your love and your life. Blessings and a bit o' sunshine to you, Joyce.

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 6 years ago

      i am sorry to hear about this misfortune but this is life. you win and you lose. keep your head up and somehow there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 6 years ago

      WOW - this lens help me get a perspective on what my ex-wife may have (or should I say still) felt when she found our daughter dead in her room after her suicide. This has been on-going issue for me and is discussed in my lens Self-Destructive Behaviour.

      I cannot imagine the pain she went through and I am torn between feeling sorry for her and anger for not having told me.

      It was good of you to share your story with us and I think that is important for 2 reasons. (1) it helps you deal with it and (2) by sharing your feelings with others, it will help others cope as well.

    • profile image

      marialaing 6 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your life and these resources! I, too, have lost an adult son. None of the losses I have had prepared me for his loss. In Aug.2009 my son Michael went missing whie scuba diving in the ocean. His body was never recovered and we don't know what happened that he didn't surface with his dive group. I had reflected on the Pieta, also, thinking the same thing you did. I even left a religious order of nuns because I wanted to be a mother. There is nothing more painful than lossing a child. I wish you well and thank you, again, for posting.

    • glenbrook profile image

      glenbrook 6 years ago

      So sorry for your loss. It's a beautiful tribute to your son.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I cannot even imagine the pain. I only have father die.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 6 years ago

      I can't even imagine what you went through. Thank you so much for telling your story, it makes me appreciate my sons even when they are difficult. I wonder if you have ever connected with the good folks at hospice, they might have some resources to offer you and you might be blessed by being a volunteer. And congratulations for making for way through breast cancer - I have too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      very hard to go through if you've been through this, I have sympathy for those going through this.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I am so very, very sorry, Joyce. What a generous soul your son was!

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 6 years ago

      I am so sorry for your tremendous loss. Thank you for sharing and I pray you found comfort by writing these words. Blessed by a Squid Angel today.

    • priscillab profile image

      priscillab 6 years ago

      Joyce I have two cousins my age who both lost their child at a young age (16 and 25). I cannot possibly know the words to heal you but I believe that your sharing your story will help so many. Hopefully it will help you to heal your heart and find comfort. Beautifully done lens.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      My dear friend, I purposely have stayed away from this story since you first published it. I believe it was because I couldn't bear to read of your pain, but perhaps it is more than that. Perhaps it is a harbinger of things to come for me, and I sincerely pray that it is not. I only wish there was a way to help ease your heartache, but I know there is not. Just know that there is not a day since this tragic event that I have not thought of you and carried you in my heart. I hope writing this lens will help ease your pain. It's a beautiful tribute to your son and the love you have for him.

    • profile image

      jseven lm 6 years ago

      Dear Joyce, you have grabbed my heart with your beautiful, but sad story. I always cried so when I watched the movie, "Jesus of Nazareth" when his mother watched him on the cross and then rocked his body after they took him down. I so pray that your joy is restored seven-fold like Job on this life and the life to come. Hugs~

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 6 years ago

      The marble of Michelangelo's Pieta is so fine and thin in places that it is translucent. The light comes through.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What a wonderful rendition of your sorrow. There are divine plans that only Our Father in Heaven knows. May many prayers follow you throughout your life.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Oh, Joyce. I'm sorry.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      It is an indescribable pain.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Ah, Joyce, it is wonderful for you to reach out like this. These suggested readings may help another grieving parent. May you find a measure of peace in reviewing your memories of your son.

    • profile image

      Momose 6 years ago

      Joyce, I cannot help but think that writing of your loss is cathartic, and if it helps even one grieving parent, even more so. I have one child, a son. I fear there would be no solace for such pain and loss. I commend you for sharing the pain (and hope for help) with others.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      There are really no words to express my sorrow at your loss. This is a very personal lens that will be encouraging for others experiencing the same pain. Angel blessed.

    • VBright profile image

      VBright 6 years ago

      It's a beautiful tribute and a beautiful lens. As a Mother who has lost a Son, and a Step-son, I know your grief. I still have not made a lens on either of my 'boys". Good job!

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 6 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I am so sorry that you have had to endure so much and now this.

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image

      Gayle 6 years ago from McLaughlin

      Very tough article to read--but this could be a blessing to so many people. I have had an adult nephew die and had two-or three close friends have this happen. There are no words to make it better. But reading articles like this would have been a help to them--when they were able. The only way all of these parents made it through was a strong belief in God and that they would see their precious children again.