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Grief and life after losing a parent in early adulthood

An illustration of an altar. On the altar are four framed photos: On the top left is a photo of an older woman with gray hair dressed in a pink shirt, blue jacket and blue skirt. Standing on her right is an older man with gray hair, wearing a red shirt and tan pants. In the top right photo are three women all dressed in black shirts and long black skirts. They all have shoulder-length brown hair. The photo on the bottom left depicts an older woman with a person standing behind her. The older woman has gray hair, adorning a pink wrap covering her head and body. The person standing behind her has brown shoulder-length hair and is wearing an orange wrap. On the bottom left is a photo of a man wearing a black suit and tie with a white shirt. He has short brown hair. This photo has a string of beads on its frame. The altar also has a bejeweled skull, a red mug, several orange fruits/vegetables, orange carnations, a prayer candle, and a bowl with an offering in it.
Charnel Hunter

Tens of millions of Americans have lost a parent by the age of 25. What is grief like for these young adults just starting out?

Young adults who lose a parent are forced to enter a new reality without that significant person in their life. The grief that follows can feel heavy, disorienting, helpless — and lonely.

As a way to cope with the loss of her father from cancer, photographer and model Liz Zorn created a YouTube video sharing some takeaways she learned about grief that she says no one talks about. Liz shares her story with host Anita Rao and talks about the shock of her sudden loss and how it changed her views on afterlife and spirituality.

Naomi Edmondson is a grief educator and space holder who lost two mother figures when she was in her 20s. Naomi sought community and help within virtual support groups but often found that she was the only Black person present in those spaces. She talks to Anita about how this inspired her to go into grief work with a special focus on the needs and experiences of Black, queer folks like her.

Anita is also joined by Jeff Dingler, a writer and journalist who was 14 years old when his father had a psychotic break. He died of congestive heart failure 12 years later. Jeff contends with grief over a long period of time and the feelings of anger and frustration he had towards his father in a piece for Insider.

Special thanks to Felicia, Tiona, Trevor, Sarah, Christine and Dulani for sharing their stories with us for this episode.

Tips from young adults on grieving a deceased parent

Join an affinity support group.
“I think one of the primary values of groups like that is that it reminds you that even though grief can be and is so isolating on so many levels, when you zoom out, there are so many other people who are having not maybe the same experience, but such a similar experience to you. And that itself can be so healing in grief.”
- Naomi Edmondson, grief educator and space holder

Share their life stories with others.
“I do feel that when I am able to relay those stories to my friends, my family and make them laugh the same way that maybe he would make people laugh telling that story, it's a way for me to teach other people about him and have people get to know him…It's kind of nice to know that he still comes out through me.”
- Liz Zorn, photographer and model

Make an ancestral altar in your home.
“I have pictures of her. I have candles. I add more pictures of other people in my family who have died as I kind of learn more about my family. But for me, that's the way that I connect to her. I make coffee. I offer water. I change it out regularly. I talk to her, even if it's not at my altar. I have these moments where I just remember she's not physically here, but that doesn't mean that I can't just talk to her.”
- Naomi Edmondson, grief educator and space holder

Stay Connected
Paige Perez (she/her) is a Caribbean-American audio and photojournalist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Her work covering sexual and reproductive health, the climate crisis, and racial inequity is published in The Guardian, HuffPost Voices, and Bronx Times. Paige is a recent graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she concentrated in health/science reporting and specialized in audio and video. When she is not reporting and producing, she is probably visiting local art spaces or making images.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.