Losing a close family member is a life-changing event. When that family member is a parent, the heartache can seem extra difficult. As you cope with your own grief, there’s a good chance you will be the key to helping your surviving parent adjust to the loss, on his or her own terms.
It’s a lot for anybody to handle. These strategies can help you find your way through this challenging time.
1. Expect the unexpected. Grief doesn’t always look the way you think it should. While grieving is often marked by sadness, emotions such as anger, anxiety, guilt and even relief are common, too. And sometimes grief is a delayed reaction, especially if your late parent was ill and the death was expected. Take it one day at a time – for you and your surviving parent.
2. Follow their lead. Your mom might want to talk frequently about your late father. Then again, she might want to avoid the subject completely. There’s no right way to grieve. Remind yourself that it’s okay if her grief looks different than yours.
3. Ask questions. Don’t assume you know what your surviving parent wants or needs. Ask how you can best help.
4. Don’t bury your feelings. You might feel tempted to swallow your sadness to stay strong for your surviving parent. But dealing with your own emotions is important for your well-being. By tending to your mental health, you’ll be able to better support your parent. If you’re struggling with grief, consider talking to a professional therapist or attending a support group.
5. Attend to health. Stress affects the whole body, and it’s not unusual for illnesses to show up or worsen in the aftermath of loss. Make sure you and your parent visit the doctor and take care of any health problems that arise.
6. Practice patience. It can take months or years for grief to fade. At first, it might feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back. It’s normal to have good days and bad days. Be patient with your widowed parent, and with yourself.
7. Enlist help. If your parent’s grief doesn’t seem to ease as months pass, or he or she talks about no longer wanting to live, seek out help from a professional grief counselor or therapist. These professionals can help find healthy ways to deal with difficult emotions.
8. Guard against loneliness. Your surviving parent might turn inward after the loss of a spouse. It’s OK to need some private space to grieve. Just make sure to watch for isolation, which can increase the risk of loneliness and related health problems. Encourage your parent to spend time with caring friends and family members.
Coping with Grief by Finding Connection
At Heritage, social connection is one of our strengths. Your dad or mom might still need some time alone to grieve, but you can encourage them to dine with friends or participate in their favorite community activities.
In fact, many other residents have experienced the loss of a spouse, and these friends and neighbors can provide an important source of knowledge and support. These social connections can help your parent avoid isolation and loneliness while moving through the grief process.
Learn more about the senior living options available at Heritage Communities.