How to help a surviving parent move past grief

TAMPA, Fla. - This is the start of our taking action for your parent’s campaign. For the next six weeks, we're going to tackle the challenging issues faced by adult caregivers of aging parents.

We want to talk about one of the greatest hardships of all, losing a parent.

When one parent passes away, the other parent is often left alone and depressed. We're taking action for you with ways you can help your surviving parent through this difficult time.

“It’s very difficult, that's for sure," said Nettie Rossi

 
Rossi and her youngest daughter, Pamela, enjoy spending time together.  The visits helped Nettie work through the low times after losing her husband of 45 years.
 
“My girls were a lot of comfort to me,” she said. “My work was comfort to me. When you’re home alone, that is not much comfort. That was difficult."
 
Cheryl Harrell, a counselor for J.P. Morgan Chase with a background in senior care, said family and friends of a surviving spouse can be crucial to lifting their spirits.
 
“A son or daughter or someone close to that individual really needs to first  allow the grief, the feelings, to actually flow," she said. 
 
That's part of healing.  So is keeping them connected with other people.  “Isolation is one of the key things that causes depression,” Harrell said.
 
Get them out of the house. Invite them to dinner. Get them to their church. Even if they resist, try gentle nudging. But if your loved one stops eating, is losing weight, isn't engaging in day to day activities they used to love, or they're sleeping a lot, they may need professional assistance.
 
“The area agency on aging is always a good resource for maybe a referral to a counselor that specializes in late life depression,” Harrell said.
 
As silly as it sounds, a pet is helpful.  The surviving spouse now has something to take care of, that can give and receive love. 
 
Volunteering also brings purpose into their lives again. 
 
“A lot of healing happens when we care for others, and aren't so focused on ourselves,” Harrell said.
 
For Nettie, it was a large community of friends that lifted her spirits.
 
“Everyone checked on my mom,” her daughter said. “We've lived in the same house for 40 years, so the neighbors would come over and check on her.”
 
But for those who aren't as well connected, perhaps a move to a senior community or even an assisted living facility will offer more opportunities to make new, healthy, happy connections.
 
Coming up on Thursday, we're going to take a look at ways you can help keep your parent positive.
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