How to Help a Bereaved Parent When You’re Grieving Too
The death of a parent is a painful moment in anyone’s life. However, as difficult as losing a parent is, the death of a spouse is even harder. It’s important that adult children support a widowed parent, but how do you help someone grieve when you’re coping with the loss too? Here are a few suggestions for what you can do to help a grieving parent.
Immediately After the Death
On top of its emotional impact, death comes with a sizable administrative burden. However, your parent might be too entrenched in sorrow to contact friends and family, manage funeral arrangements, and deal with the tedious details of death.
Adult children can lend a hand by handling funeral preparations, obtaining death certificates, notifying insurance companies, banks, and benefits programs of the death, and meeting with a probate attorney regarding the deceased’s will.
Loved ones should aim to ease the burden at home as well. Simply sharing meals and keeping the house clean can make a difference in the life of a bereaved senior. Not only does it let them focus on their own healing, but it ensures that their basic needs are being met and provides important emotional support.
The Following Months
After the first few months following the death of a spouse, the bereaved should regain their footing in day-to-day life. However, some seniors will never regain the independence they had within their marriage. In the months following a parent’s death, consider whether your surviving parent can continue to age in place or if a higher level of care is needed.
For some elderly parents, occasional help around the house is enough to allow them to live independently. However, others could benefit from transitioning to a senior-living community for a higher level of care. Even the healthiest of seniors may choose to move to a more tight-knit community in order to maintain a social life and keep loneliness at bay.
During this time, it’s important to monitor your elderly parent for worrisome behavioral changes. In the aftermath of a major loss, cognitive health can take a nosedive, mood disorders can emerge, and unhealthy habits are poised to develop.
If you notice changes in a senior’s mental health following the death of a spouse, encourage a visit to the doctor. A major loss can trigger cognitive decline in susceptible seniors, and unresolved grief can sometimes contribute to depression. While it can be hard to discern grief-related changes from the normal effects of aging, sudden behavior changes are almost always cause for concern.
One behavioral change that family members don’t usually anticipate is a substance abuse problem. The elderly aren’t often characterized as problem drinkers or drug abusers, but addiction is a growing problem among the aging population — and a spouse’s death is often a trigger. Adult children should monitor parents for increased alcohol consumption, medication misuse, and doctor shopping, all of which could indicate an emerging drug or alcohol problem.
Into the Future
Within a year or so after the death of a spouse, most seniors are growing accustomed to life as a widow. While the pain of grief remains, new routines begin to feel normal, new sources of companionship are discovered, and life is rebuilt.
Active support becomes less crucial in this stage of grief, but the child’s work isn’t over. Adult children should continue to keep an eye on their parent’s health even years down the line. A senior’s health goes through many evolutions as the years pass on, and staying alert and involved is the best way to ensure your parent enjoys the best quality of life possible.