Perhaps the hardest task you will ever be faced with is to help one of your parents cope with the loss of
their spouse. Naturally, this is going to be a traumatic time for the whole family because as much as mom lost her husband and the father of her children, you have lost your
dad and you have to grieve yourself. So how do you help your mom and grandma to
help your kids get through this very difficult transition?
It will be a time when you will need the understanding and support of your spouse and kids as well. And just as the grief you are coping with in yourself and in your now widowed mother is difficult, you also have to be strong and brave for your children as well.
This is the purpose of the funeral because through the good words of the minister, those not as close to the family feel closure that this good life has gone on to his reward. If your dad was ill and going through a lot of discomfort, there is often a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering. And if the family is strong in a religious faith, that assurance of the afterlife is a source of comfort as well.
Only you will be able to gauge how much support or comfort your widowed mother needs in the days just after the passing. It’s important to remember that grief surfaces in strange ways. Many times the real deep grief does not surface at the funeral or even in the days just after as family stays around to be close and go through group processing of the loss of a loved one.
It’s when family goes home and the routine of daily life sets in that you should plan to be very accessible to your parent. That is when the emotions of grief will surface in the quiet and privacy of the home. It might be advisable in this kind of situation that you live with the grieving parent for period of a week or two to help with the transition.
Another thing about grief is that it is selfish. While we put a noble face on it and say we are grieving “for” the lost one, the truth is the grief is really for the one who remains because it is she who has to learn to go through life’s routines without that spouse. By being present during mealtime and those little moments of the day, you can “talk through” the different times when your widowed parent remembers that the dearly departed was part of this part of life.
There will be a lot of rebuilding during those first months of being alone. So you as caregiver can help that transition by not letting the times of loneliness be so long between visits. Obviously, your parent will eventually have to learn to get through the rituals of life alone. But be there for her so that transition is not so jarring.
But even if your parent was stoic at the funeral and only shows a happy face to the grandkids, there will come a time when she has to cry. Be there for her. Don’t try to come up with any “comforting words.” Just being present, maybe doing the dishes or pouring each of you a glass of wine can be the biggest comfort you can provide.
Finally talk about the dearly departed. Ministers know the value of talking about the fun, interesting and wonderful things about the dearly departed. It is a way of reminding ourselves that he didn’t really go away. The memory of him will be here forever in your hearts. So take some evenings and sit down with that box of family photos and go through them with the widowed parent and laugh about the different events of your family history when you were just a little squirt and mom and dad were young and good looking kids themselves.
The joy of these times will be tremendously healing for the grieving senior citizen and for you too. But by going through grief, healing, closure and moving on together, you bond with your parent and lay the groundwork for the important care giving challenges you and she will face together in the months and years to come. But you will face them and you will conquer them because you are going to do it together.