How to Help One of Your Elderly Parents Deal with the Loss of Their Spouse
Posted by: Kelly Ryan in Grief and Guidance, Memorialization | July 26
As our parents age, it is a significant challenge for any of their children, or family, to make decisions about their care and well-being. From housing that is more suitable to less mobile bodies to finding healthcare that is close and specifically focused on caring for the elderly, they are dealing with a loss of autonomy, and you and your siblings are dealing with making life choices for someone who has been making their own for many decades.
But the decisions are somewhat easier when both parents are still alive, working together as a team. If one no longer should drive, the other one can run errands. If one no longer has the mental acuity to pay the bills or do the things to keep a home running, the other can take on those duties.
When one of those parents passes, the team is no longer. Which raises an entirely new question – how do you help the living spouse carry on while dealing with the unbelievable grief of losing their partner? The surviving partner, who has been gradually adjusting to a loss in autonomy is now alone and dealing with grief and depression over losing the person with whom they have spent their entire lives with.
So how best to support and help your parent after the loss of their spouse?
Do Not Push Away Your Grief
Working through your own grief is imperative – pushing it off for another time is a detriment to you and not helpful to the person you are trying to support because you will have to deal with it and work through it to help them.
Making yourself available to the surviving spouse is essential, from the beginning. As they (and you) go through the stages of grief, from the initial shock to the realization that they are on their journey without their partner for the long term, they will rely on your support and guidance throughout.
Seek Additional Sources of Help
There are a plethora of books for surviving parents/spouses that will help you, and them, work through the grieving process, as well as a myriad of articles online (like this one) to help you through every stage of the process. The worst thing you can do is take the stance of “doing it all yourself.” Again, that is not sustainable in the long term, and if you want to be there on Day 1, you also want to be there every day, of which hopefully there will be many to come. Support groups are also helpful, at the right stage. Finding the stage where you can inject some support that does not necessarily come from you or your sibling is challenging but can do wonders for them by hearing about the pain of losing a spouse from someone who understands what they’re going through.
This may be the most crucial element for your parent. You are going to be taking on a different role than the one you have had your entire life – becoming a source of guidance and support for them when they have been that for you forever. Be patient as they gradually come to terms with this role reversal. Another area where great patience is required is in the decision-making process. What will, at times, seem evident for them to do may take a while for them to see it too. Getting frustrated or angry will not help – in fact, it will do just the opposite. You will want them to see you as their rock, not their antagonist.
This may be the toughest one to remember and act on. Talk about the deceased as often as memories hit you. Your grieving parent may be thinking about the same memory, or your memory may trigger another memory for them. Do not hold back, because if you do, it may seem like you are avoiding the topic, and that will not help the grieving process but prolong it. At the same time, engage with them when they mention stories or memories of the deceased. Follow up with questions, your interest, even if you have heard the story countless times, will give them permission to keep their memories of the deceased active and aid in the healing process.
Talk About a Bright Future
Be positive about their prospects and what lies ahead for them. Do not sugarcoat things, and always be honest. But encourage them by saying you and your entire family are there to support them and any short-term challenges will be met and achieved. Tell them things will get better and that you and your family are committed to helping them in any way you can, and that there are better days and lots of life yet to live.