My mother visits the cemetery everyday and talks to dad, when should I start to worry about her?

Jakki asked...

My father died a month ago. My mother is going to the cemetery everyday & staying for hours. She have a strong christian faith. She knows he isn't there. But she refer to talking to Dad. When should I be worried about her?

Expert Answer

Shelly Beach, MRE, is a seminary graduate; instructor at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan; author of seven books; and contributor to The NIV Stewardship Study Bible. She speaks nationally on faith, writing, and caregiving and is a host on the website Help for My Life in roundtable discussions on care issues. Beach's most recent release is Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey.

Your mother is expressing her grief in a way that gives many individuals comfort "“ visiting the graveside of a loved one she's lost. Talking to dead loved ones helps some survivors move through the stages of grief, even though they'd admit that their loved ones aren't really "there." Interestingly, the Jewish faith provides for family and friends to sit beside mourners to empathize with them during a grieving process that takes months and years.

You haven't mentioned whether your mother lost your father after a long illness or suddenly. Either way, spouses can find it difficult to absorb the reality of the loss of their loved ones. Experts report that it can sometimes take months for partners to understand their husbands or wives are really gone after death.

Visiting a grave can be a way to try to remain connected to those who've died. Spouses may also feel comfortable expressing their deep emotion at a cemetery after the death of a loved one.

One key to healthy grieving is to help survivors talk about their loss and work through stages of grief:

  1. Offer to visit the gravesite with your mother and encourage her to talk about memories of your father.

  2. Ask your mother's friends and your siblings to talk with her about positive memories of your father.

  3. Encourage your mother to seek counseling to help express her grief.

  4. Allow your mother time to move through the various stages of grief that can include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Be concerned about your mother if she begins to exhibit symptoms of depression. Of course, some level of depression is to be expected after the loss of a spouse. But becoming "stuck" or demonstrating a wide range of symptoms can signal clinical depression. If you have these concerns, seek the advice of a medical professional. Look for a number of the following symptoms, exhibited over a period of weeks or months:

  1. Feeling sad, empty, or tearful most of the day

  2. Significant loss of interest in activities that were previously part of daily life

  3. Significant weight loss or weight gain; decrease or increase in appetite

  4. Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

  5. Fatigue or loss of energy

  6. Agitation or slowed thoughts

  7. Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions

  8. Thinking or talking about death or suicide

If your mother begins to exhibit a number of the above symptoms over a prolonged period of time, consult a health professional.