When your parent is in pain, you want to offer support and comfort, but if your parent is suffering because his or her spouse died, how can you help when you’re overcome with your own intense feelings of grief from losing a parent? Offering empathy and encouragement and ensuring your parent has the help he or she requires makes a world of difference. By helping your parent in his or her grieving, you’re also helping your own grieving process. EricsHouse.org presents some things to remember when you’re helping a parent cope with loss.
Offering Empathy and Encouragement
Remember that grief is experienced differently in individuals. Furthermore, while similar, losing a spouse and losing a parent isn’t the same. Don’t say you know exactly how your parent feels, as this may come off as undermining his or her feelings. Don’t tell your parent how he or she should be feeling. Instead, listen to your parent and allow him or her to openly express grief in his or her own way. If your parent wishes to openly talk about his or her spouse, listen intently. If your parent just doesn’t want to talk, sitting with them, even in silence, is offering support.
Grieving seniors sometimes need encouragement to move forward with their lives and to stay on top of their own health. Remind your parent to take medications, offer to pick up prescriptions, and ensure he or she is maintaining usual doctor visits. Encourage him or her to eat right, exercise, and get adequate sleep – all things that will help encourage mental and physical health.
Getting out of the house is also good for a grieving senior. Encourage your parent to meet up with friends for coffee or lunch, to take a walk with neighbors, or attend religious assemblies. He or she may also benefit from taking up a new hobby, such as joining a book club or bowling league, teaching or taking classes at a community center (like sewing, music, or art), or volunteering somewhere. Some seniors also benefit from taking on a part-time job, which keeps them occupied, provides socialization, and provides a source of income.
When a spouse passes, the balance of household duties is thrown off. Your dad may have filed income taxes, mowed the lawn, and cooked breakfast, and your mother paid the bills, cleaned the house, and cooked lunch and dinner. Now one parent is alone to do it all. He or she may have no experience taking care of certain responsibilities.
You may need to help your parent with some day-to-day tasks. Offer practical assistance instead of waiting to be asked. Tell him or her that you’re going to the store and will pick up any needed items. Off to run errands, help ensure bills are handled, and care for pets. You can also help with different landscaping duties, such as mowing, raking leaves, and cleaning gutters. (Keep in mind that if tasks like cleaning gutters are outside your wheelhouse, you can search for “gutter cleaners near me” to find pros and use sites like Angi.com to check reviews).
Cooking and eating alone is difficult for some seniors who have lost a spouse. Although your parent’s community of friends and family will bring meals in the beginning, eventually, everyone else has returned to their lives in the weeks following the loss. Take the time to offer to join your parent for frequent meals. If they’re far away, pay to have meals delivered or make the suggestion to go out for lunch. Some seniors find turning on the radio or TV during meals to be helpful.
Offer to help your parent clean the house, as sometimes this task can be too much for him or her to handle alone. Your parent will likely need help sorting through possessions left behind by his or her spouse. During the sorting process, your parent may decide to pass on family heirlooms to you or your children. Ensure you’re aware of how to properly handle and preserve the heirloom. Protecting the item is important, and you don’t want to add to your parent’s pain if one of his or her most precious valuables gets damaged.
Remember that grief is a process, and it’s unique to each individual person. Being there for your parent may be difficult as you’re dealing with your own grief, but you can lean on each other in this hard time. Also, caring for your parent and spending time with them can help you both feel better. The ability of a grieving senior to move forward in his or her life is largely dependent upon inner resources and support received from family and friends.
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