How do I help my mother cope with my father's death?

9 answers | Last updated: Feb 07, 2017
Aroseisarose asked...

My father died recently. My mother is 91, and I need to know how to help her through this.

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

As you know too well, you are pinned in a difficult spot. At 91, your mother may not be amenable to traditional kinds of treatment such as grief therapy. And she may lack the energy for activities such as volunteering or exercising that help many people get new perspectives on mourning and loss.

And your mother has also lived to an age at which she's likely witnessed many friends, neighbors, and family members die before her -- and that may add to any feelings of despondency and isolation.

Still, for people of any age and stage, time helps ease the pain of losing a loved one. In the meantime, gently help her recall and replant the good times your mother and father shared -- perhaps by looking at family photos together. Older people who lose a spouse are often particularly plagued by a sense of regret and guilt over missed connections and mistakes, which can make grief more difficult to process.

Then slowly help your mother reconnect to people and activities that will help her become hopeful about going forward in her current life.

Bear in mind that you will likely need to make plenty of time to listen to reminiscing, provide company to ease her new loneliness, and to ease new feelings of insecurity and vulnerability she may have -- especially around issues your father may have traditionally handled, such as finances or housing.

Community Answers

Hugs4me? answered...

I am in a pretty similar situation. My father dies last September after 61 yrs. of marriage to my mother. She is now liviing with me because I wanted to be there for her around the clock. I have tried many of these things, but she has been sitting in pajamas way, way before my father died. He was trying to take care of her, but when I moved her here, I noticed piles of bags with everything from clothing to pillows to you name it. She used to shop yrs. ago and I never knew the extent of everything she bought. It was usually "hidden". I feel the loss of my dad every day and wish I had helped more or knew more. When I was growing up, he did everything pretty much annd when he was at work I did most everything. What does anyone have to say to help me understand this? It is so lonely every day. I'm afraid to try to work as she has made it clear she can't be alone. There's nothing physically wrong with her at 77. But I'm not sure how much more isolation I can take. No one else comes to see her or rarely calls. Gee, I wonder why? Thank you!!

!...lila...! answered...

I think the best way is to give her time. When she cries, tell her that everything is gonna be allright and that everything happens for a reason. God has a reason for taking him away from your mother and you.

Amour answered...

Dear hugs4me, I've been dealing withsomewhat of a same situation. My father passed 2 yrs ago, mother is 88 and she wants to die. She cannot accept her situation (until there is accceptance NOTHING can be done). We have tried everything and every avenues out there and she adamently refuses all. Now, I'm practicing tough love and it's still has no effects. Your mother has NO RIGHTS to keep you from having a life because SHE chooses not to have one. This sounds harsh but you cannot help someone if they don't want to help themselves!! This is called "detachment with love". I still check on her and talk to her, I've given up on the rest because it makes me crazy. Now, I just sit and wait for that imminent phone call that something bad happened. I can honestly tell myself that I've done everything I could and now it is entirely up to her.

Travelady answered...

My dad died 11 months ago after 60 years of marriage to my mother. It was only after he died we realised how much he took care of my mother. She was housebound without him. The first months were awful as my mum would just burst out crying and we just didn't know what to say or do. I felt hopeless to help her. It was also made worse in that I missed my father so much, but felt I had to keep a brave face just to help mum out. She has also never lived on her before and all of a sudden she was alone. I worried about her so much, especially as live 100 miles away and work full-time.
I was lucky, my brother lived closer and initially popped into see mum daily and I stayed with her over the weekend. I also called her 2-3 times a day and just let her talk. Unprompted, my two girls who have their own car decided they would to pop in to eat with granny twice a week.
It took time for her settle a bit, but I think the girls continually chatting to her about 'modern things' and not letting her get into a downward spiral gradually got her curious about stuff she didn't know about. In the last three months she has obtained a Kindle, started watching new types of TV programmes and is eating different foods. At 81 she had pizza for the first time! We also found out she had always wanted to cruise but dad wasn't for it, so we took her away on a cruise over Xmas.

She talks about dad every day, some days she is very sad, but by giving her time to talk and talk and talk and doing basic things for her like housework and shopping without asking her (she would never ask!) has settled her greatly. We also purchased a 'designer' rollator and just left it in her home without saying a word - she now gets about more confidently. So, for me, trying to second guess her needs and giving time has worked, but I realise not everyone is the same.

Alzheimer's symptoms answered...

Giving love and time to listen eases grief. That's why I'd suggest to "huges4me" to give time to her mother, and slowly connect her with her friends and activities again, before going back to work. If this shows to be very difficult, I'd ask for professional help. I respectfully suggest "Amour" to reconsider her thinking on "they don't want to help themselves". Most times people is so sad, they don't know what to do...and they need lots of patience and love from others.

Stacyn answered...

!...LILA...! that is actually a really demeaning way to respond to someone who just lost a loved one. First, maybe it isn't going to be alright. Second, not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, crappy things just happen. Third, not everyone believes in God. Saying all of the things you suggested only minimizes the person's feelings as opposed to validating them.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Unkresourced at this POINT

Lucky27 answered...

We are in the same exact situation as Amour and have no idea how to handle the situation. Our mother is 82 and lost our father 4 years ago. She is very lonely and depressed and will not accept any help. We moved her out of the house and into a condo 2 years ago, but she is very stubborn and pig headed. She spends most of her time alone and we've tried to recommend that she move into a independent living community closer to us, but she refuses. We live about an hour and a half from her and bring her to stay with us every other weekend. Usually from Thurs to Mon. This is wearing us down and we're not sure how long we can maintain this activity. We believe the lack of human interaction and brain stimulation is having a serious affect on her mental state. She has been going down hill rapidly over the past year. We're at the end of our rope and don't know what to do next.