Helping a Parent Cope with the Loss of a Spouse

Sunrise Senior Living  |  October 12, 2021
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The death of a spouse or partner is one of life’s most difficult challenges. Each day can bring about a roller coaster of new emotions. When you are an adult child witnessing a parent’s grief at the same time you are struggling with your own, you may feel unsure about how to proceed.

While grief follows its own time line, there are steps you can take that might help your parent navigate through their emotional distress.

Ways to Support a Parent Through Loss

Here are a few items for you and your grieving parent to remember:

  • Accept that grieving is essential for healing: The process of grieving is hard work. Confusion, relief, sorrow, guilt, and anger are all common emotions those who are mourning experience. Just when you feel like you are getting back on your feet, you may suddenly experience periods of pain that seem to come from nowhere. Give yourself time and permission to work through these feelings to help you heal.
  • Refrain from setting unrealistic goals: Don’t set artificial time lines on yourself for grieving. This includes working your way through predetermined stages of grief. Unless you must make a decision or complete a financial task due to a firm deadline, do things on your own schedule. That includes items such as cleaning out a loved one’s closet, cancelling a cell phone, or selling a car. You’ll know when the time is right.
  • Be kind to yourself: Take it one day at a time. On days you feel like seeing a movie or shopping at the local mall, for example, you should do so. But on days when your sense of loss is overwhelming, be kind and gentle with yourself. Call a family member or friend who is empathetic to your situation and talk through your feelings with them. Don’t let others’ judgment or criticism of how you are handling the grieving process influence your behavior.
  • Talk about your lost loved one: People often don’t know what to say when someone has experienced a significant loss. Loved ones might be hesitant to bring up your spouse or parent’s name for fear of upsetting you. But if you talk about your lost loved one, it will give them permission to do the same. Sharing favorite memories and photos can be healing for all of you.
  • Find a support system: Many surviving spouses and adult children find it helpful to connect with others who have experienced a similar loss. A support group can be a place where you feel comfortable and understood as you are grieving. Hospice agencies offer them and most don’t require your loved one to have been a patient to join. If you prefer, there are also organizations who offer these support services virtually using platforms like Skype or Zoom. Another option is to connect in an online chat as your schedule permits. Sites like Grieving.com and Grief in Common are good ones to explore.

One final suggestion is to consider talking with a therapist if you feel like your own grief or your parent’s is becoming too much to bear. This article, Therapy Helps Brighten Senior Living, will help you learn more about the benefits of working with a mental health professional during challenging times.