How to Help an Elderly Parent Cope With Loss


If your parent is grieving for a spouse, then you are probably grieving for a parent too – but how can you support your elderly parent if they suddenly find themselves alone after a long marriage, or a long friendship?

A double loss

Helping an elderly parent when they are grieving a loss can be a very difficult journey to navigate especially when that loss was your own mother or father. Not only can you suddenly feel as though you are parenting your remaining parent; you also have your own loss and emotions to process too. Combine this with the stresses and demands of your own life and it is very easy to feel as though you are not being much help at all.

It’s a transition period

It is never easy to console a widow or widower and it is natural to worry about doing or saying the wrong thing but often the most important thing is simply your presence – whether that’s by being physically present or emotionally at the end of the phone. Try to take your cues from your grieving parent and ask how you can help them and perhaps most importantly; remember that it is a process that WILL end whereby the family reaches a new dynamic. 

Things may seem very intense at the beginning and remember that it is important to make time for self-care to process your own feelings too. You may feel a mixture of upsetting emotions such as anger, frustration, sorrow and guilt towards your grieving parent and this is entirely normal and part of your own grieving and adjustment process.

Suggestions on how you can help

  • Attending to their needs – help with shopping, paying bills, pet care etc
  • Helping them with practical duties connected to the loss – funeral arrangements, finances etc
  • Listening to them – encouraging them to talk about their spouse if they wish
  • Being patient – allowing them to express their grief
  • Remembering and acknowledging important memories, dates and anniversaries

Ensuring they get the care they require

If your parent is very elderly and/or infirm they may have care needs or begin to show care needs that you can find it impossible to help them with. They may display signs of depression, forgetfulness and a lack of interest or motivation in caring for themselves or in activities they used to enjoy. Although these can be natural signs of grieving – if severe or on-going; the kindest and most practical course of action to both of you may be to seek outside help from an agency for live-in care or to look at the likes of for a care home.

Losing a loved one can be incredibly difficult, and if your elderly parent is struggling to cope, it is important to be there for them. However, it is just as critical to realise when they need more help than you are able to provide.


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