Caring for a Grieving Parent

eldercare, caring for parentsThe death of a spouse is a huge loss at any age.  Your parent will need your support and your patience on their journey to healing after the death of their partner.  Your efforts to care for your elderly parent can be further complicated by your own grief.

Take care of yourself and be aware of where you are in your grieving process.  You and your surviving parent have a shared bond of grief and you are each experiencing your losses in ways that are unique to each of you.  Don't expect to be in the same place at the same time in your grieving.

Know that talking about the person who died does not cause grief even if the tears flow.  Talking about them gives voice to what is already inside your parent's heart.  Don't make it your responsibility to heal your parent's grief or to take the place of your parent's spouse.  Your parent is responsible for their own healing.

Be a supportive listener when your parent wants to discuss their feelings or challenges.  If they can't share their feelings very often, bring up some of the emotions you have been coping with and see if that helps prompt a discussion.

Do remember and recognize special dates such as birthdays and anniversaries of the person who died.  Since the death of her father, a friend of mine sends yellow roses to her mother every year in honor of her mother's wedding anniversary.  Her mother really appreciates that her anniversary is remembered each year.  Don't be concerned that you are bringing up sad memories.  They are probably already thinking about and missing their partner.

Sometimes spouses help each other so seamlessly that you may not be aware that your surviving parent is not as self sufficient as you thought.  Keep a close watch on them to see if there are critical day-to-day tasks that they need help with.  There are times when a death reveals a significant disability on the part of the surviving parent that no one in the family was aware of.  You may need to take action by finding resources to fill the gap.

Don't expect or encourage your parent to make drastic lifestyle changes in the first year after their loss. While it can be tempting to ask them to downsize or move closer after a loss his partner, too much change in a short time can make your parent's adjustment more difficult.

Encourage your parent to take small steps toward building a new life.  This may be joining a support group or participating in new activities. Each person's timetable for moving forward will be different and it is likely that your parent's timetable for moving through grief will be different than yours.

How did you care for your elderly parent after the loss of their spouse?

Share your thoughts about helping parents cope with grief.

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--Janice Wallace

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