Helping a Widowed Parent

I recently read a post that spoke about the irreplaceability of a deceased spouse. This post went on to explain that, even a very caring network of support can’t replace this one thing we had: a shared and equally vested interest in the outcome of each other’s lives. A widow pointed this out to me, and boy was she right. ‘My friends are great,’ she said, ‘when I share a worry about my daughter or grandson, they’ll nod and show compassion and concern. But here’s the thing…in the end, whatever happens just won’t affect them the same way it would affect me. The only person who could share the weight of these concerns was my husband’.” (Source)

This is an aspect of widowhood that often goes unseen. When you lose your spouse, you lose your support system, your partner in life, the father/mother to your children, your best friend…all in the span of a day. This is a tremendous loss, and it can be hard to figure out how to support and console someone in this situation.

It can be even more difficult to console a widowed parent, because you’ve also experienced a loss. In addition to your own grieving, you are worrying about helping your mother or father in their time of grief. So how should you handle the situation?

Encouraging your parent to talk about their thoughts and feelings may help them process their grief. Letting them vent about the situation can help them heal because it allows them to make sense of their emotions and makes them feel less alone. Remember: Listening is so important— don’t listen to respond, but listen to understand. You could also share memories about the deceased to pay tribute to their unique personality. You’ve both created your own memories and it might be helpful to share these happy stories with one another to celebrate their life instead of mourning their death.

Another important yet simple gesture is helping with cooking dinner or completing daily tasks. These tasks seem daunting during the initial stages following bereavement. Recently widowed persons have so much on their minds (funeral arrangements, finances, and floods of remorse), and they may not want to eat due to loss of appetite. Make sure they’re getting enough food by cooking them a meal, or ensure their house is maintained by cleaning dishes or sweeping the floors. Your parent will appreciate your help with the little tasks.

Encourage your family member to see a therapist and seek professional help for any mental health problems caused by bereavement. Widows and widowers have higher rates of depression, and are more likely to experience serious health issues immediately after bereavement, so it’s important to make sure they’re taking care of themselves (physically, mentally, and spiritually).

As time goes on, start encouraging your parent to leave the house because social isolation is harmful for mental health. Plan fun events for both of you to look forward to, and encourage them to make new friends (or reconnect with old friends). There are plenty of social meet-up groups, and you can find groups specifically for widowed persons, like Widow Care’s monthly social meet-ups & peer support groups. This encourages social interaction, but also helps to build a supportive network of individuals that understand widowhood.

If you take away anything from this article, take away this: The most important thing to do is to make your parent feel supported & loved while helping them manage their grief. Do whatever little things you can to take some of their work-load off their shoulders, and just listen to what they have to say. Only time will heal, and unfortunately you cannot take away their pain.

Marissa Martin