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old man suffering with spouse loss.

Helping parents when dealing with grief

Table of Contents

Losing an elderly parent is always difficult, and it can also bring some complicated issues. While you, the child, are dealing with your own feelings of loss, if you have another parent that is still living, he or she is grieving for their life-partner and a huge change in their living circumstances.

People react very differently when coping with death and grief. The time it takes to move from grief to acceptance and a return to some sense of normalcy varies greatly.

Your surviving parent’s personality, their relationship to their spouse and the manner of death can all have an impact. It typically takes around a year or longer for people to get close to feeling normal.

Certain triggers can raise memories of a loved one and bring grief back to the surface. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries can all be difficult times for you and your grieving parent. Try and be together at these times.

Typical symptoms of grief

Your surviving parent may go through a wide range of emotions after the death of their spouse. Anger, guilt, panic, longing, relief and regret are all normal feelings when coping with grief. Nonetheless, they can be extremely distressing for you and your parent. 

For some time during the initial period of grief, your parent may lose focus, have difficulty concentrating and lose interest in their hobbies.

Other typical symptoms include forgetfulness, lack of motivation and a feeling that life may have lost its meaning somewhat. While these are all signs of grief, they can also point to depression.

Coping with grief

Dealing with grief is stressful and stress can weaken the immune system, leading to sickness. Your surviving parent should go for a doctor’s check-up and mention their bereavement.

If they spent a long time looking after their dying spouse, they will need to get back into a routine of self-care. They often forget to take time to care for themselves so when their spouse dies, they can be exhausted.

It is important to establish a routine of wholesome meals, rest and exercise. Staying healthy is essential for coping with grief.

How you can help your parent cope with grief

Be there for them and encourage them to talk about their spouse. Many grieving seniors isolate themselves, so help them to stay sociable.

Grieving people may also have issues with decision-making, so try to discourage them from making major decisions in the first six months.

Encourage them to build a new social network. Loneliness and a lack of stimulation can bring on feelings of depression and, in extreme circumstances, can even lead to dementia. Suggest that they join a seniors’ centre, a choir, hobby group or a seniors’ fitness club.

Help your parent find a suitable volunteer position. It will fill their day with something meaningful, they’ll become more sociable and find a renewed sense of purpose.

When you visit, share a healthy, home cooked meal, and then go for a long walk together.

Help them look for grief resources that will help them discuss and process their feelings. Search “grief support groups + your community” to find one near you.

Some people don’t know how to cope with death. If your parent’s friends can’t discuss their grief, make sure you do.

Your grieving parent may become forgetful, so help them fill in an event calendar so they keep up with what they need to do.

If your parent continues to struggle, shows early signs of depression, or turns to negative coping mechanisms including drugs or alcohol, have them ask your doctor to refer them to a grief counselor.

Lastly, don’t forget that you’re grieving too. Look after yourself, eat well and get plenty of rest, so that you and your parent are better equipped to get through this difficult period.

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