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How to Support a Grieving Parent

We all grieve when we lose someone important to us. Still, even though it’s a normal and expected reaction, it’s hard for us to watch those we love go through sadness and pain. It’s natural for us to want to “fix” the problem and make the situation better, but if you’re an adult child whose senior parent has lost their partner, what can you do?

“Adult children grieve differently after losing a parent than a spouse does,” says Kristine Tilton, Executive Director of Waterstone at Wellesley. “Losing a parent is painful but expected, and grief usually involves reminiscing, coming to terms and worrying about the remaining parent. For spouses, however, their lives have completely changed and they’re facing daily reminders of their loss, which can be especially difficult to overcome.”

Supporting your parent through grief isn’t a one-step process. “Many of us are quick to offer support when a loss has occurred, which is very helpful in the short term,” Kristine says. “However, once the funeral is over and the initial shock of the loss has faded, grief still continues. In fact, it can be an ongoing situation that will last for the rest of his or her life.”

To add to your parent’s pain, there may be secondary losses that stem from their husband or wife’s death. Mom may have to sell the house, or Dad has to move in with a family member because he needs daily assistance. 

“We all grieve on our own terms and in our own time, but this is painful for adult children to watch,” she says. “While you can’t rescue your parent from grief, there are ways to show support and caring to help them manage their new normal.”

1. Accept that your parent will change because of the loss – and allow them to do so.

Losing a partner disrupts one’s life in monumental ways. It’s not uncommon for people’s personalities and behaviors to do a complete 180 following the loss of a spouse. A mother who was always the life of the party and a social butterfly may become more of a quiet wallflower. Your kind and patient dad becomes snappish and angry for seemingly insignificant things. Remember that your mother or father has gone through a huge trauma and isn’t just figuring out what life looks like without their partner – they’re also figuring out who they are without a partner. It’s possible that any changes may be temporary, but it’s possible that your parent won’t have the ability or desire to do thinks they did previously. Adult children need to be understanding and try not to push their parent to do or act as they did before – they may simply not be able to do so.

2. Be patient and don’t push for them to “get out.”

If your mom or dad has been cooped up in the house for an extended amount of time, you may urge them to get out of the house and socialize with friends and family. However, take a step back. It can take some time for a grieving spouse to get back out into the world and interact with others. Understand that Mom or Dad may not be able to handle being out in public. Of course, you don’t want them to become isolated, but having close friends and family reach out on a regular basis to visit may be more manageable. 

3. Be present and caring. 
Just being there for your parent is the best thing you can do as they work through grief. Knowing that you’re there and that you care will help them greatly, even if they don’t always respond or seem subdued. Keep in touch with a daily phone call or send them texts throughout the day – pictures of grandkids are always appreciated. If you live in town, you can offer to take Mom to run errands and then have lunch afterward. If you don’t live nearby, see if there are friends who would be willing to check in on a regular basis, too. Having a steady (but not pushy) stream of people who are being considerate and thoughtful will help Mom or Dad feel less isolated. 

4. Don’t make any big decisions right away.

Grief counselors often suggest not making any big decisions for a year (or two) following the death of a loved one. Even if your parent wants to sell the family home right away or donate all of their spouse’s beloved items to charity, gently try to dissuade them. It’s easy to make decisions you could regret later while you’re grieving. If reminders of their spouse are too painful to look at on a daily basis, offer to store the items for them. Remember, the decisions will always be there – your surviving parent can go through items or make decisions much more easily after they’ve processed their grief as well as they can. 

5. Listen to them. 

Most spouses want to talk about their lost loved one, tell stories and share memories. This can be awkward and uncomfortable sometimes for adult children, who might not know what to say. Generally, Mom or Dad simply wants to talk and share their memories and emotions. If you’re comfortable doing so, don’t be afraid to share your own memories or stories. 

6. Help them stay healthy.

Grief, depression and sadness can affect our physical body in very real ways. Our immune systems drop, which leaves us susceptible to infection, illness and other health issues. Plus, many grieving spouses don’t eat well, don’t get enough sleep or don’t exercise. As you’re checking in on your parent’s emotional health, be sure they’re taking care of themselves physically, too. Coordinate a meal train so that he or she has some nutritious items regularly, or subscribe Mom or Dad to a meal service if that’s something they would enjoy. You can also encourage Mom or Dad to exercise with you or join an exercise group that they would enjoy. 

For more information about helping a parent work through their grief, please contact us at 781.235.1614.

Beautiful Riverfront Community

Located on the banks of the Charles River, Waterstone is Wellesley’s only senior living community, offering premier independent and assisted living. But that’s only the first of many differences that sets Waterstone above and beyond other communities. 

Celebrating Dynamic Living

Here our residents live independently in their own private, spacious apartments – but without any of the worries or concerns of homeownership or living alone. All meals are expertly prepared. There aren’t any chores to be concerned with. No home maintenance or repairs to worry about. Just opportunities around every corner and time to spend as they choose – in the company of new friends.

Our vibrant community encourages residents to engage in a variety of recreational, cultural and social programs and activities. Enjoy a fitness class. Swim in the sunny indoor pool. Take a stroll on a walking path. Partake in a favorite hobby or pastime. Discover a new interest. With Waterstone at Wellesley, there’s a world of opportunity waiting right outside our residents’ doors. 

Confidence of Care

The hallmark of Waterstone assisted living is the peace of mind we provide both our residents and their families. Knowing that care and support is available right on site instills a sense of confidence and calm one can’t find living alone. 

For prospective residents or their families interested in residing at Waterstone at Wellesley, please contact us at 781.235.1614.