Helping Others Grieve

Helping Parents Grieve

What can you do to help your parent through his or her grief when a spouse dies? This is one of the major losses in life, but there are things you can do to help.

Acceptance–Be accepting and supportive of the new person your parent becomes in the wake of this devastating loss. Support him or her in new ventures and new friendships. Your parent must find a new way to live, and build a new life for himself or herself.

Decisions–Let your parent decide when and how to dispose of the deceased’s clothing and personal items. Some may not be ready to do this right away. Others may want to get it over with almost as soon as they get home from the funeral.

Family Traditions–Let your family traditions change and evolve to fit your family’s new structure. Don’t force things that don’t work without the deceased, or that are exceptionally painful without him or her.

Independence–Help your parent be independent. Teach him or her something new that the deceased used to do rather than taking it on yourself. This could be anything from balancing the checkbook to maintaining the car to cooking.

Major Decisions–Encourage your parent to delay making major decisions, such as selling a home or moving to a new part of the country–for at least one year after the death. Discourage other major financial decisions as well.

Money–Your parent may be tempted to loan money to family or friends. Help them resist this urge, at least until they have a better understanding of their new financial circumstances, whether it’s for better or worse.

New Life–Encourage your parent to make a new life for himself or herself. Encourage him or her to make new friends, take up new activities, and find new focus in life.

Talking–Talk about the deceased parent. Tell stories, and bring up his or her nameoften. Talking about the person keeps the memories alive and helps the healing process.

Telephone–Call your parent frequently, and make sure they feel comfortable calling you more often. A surviving parent may become very dependent on his or her children for communication and companionship, at least in the short term.

Helping Children Grieve

Children, like adults, experience grief in many different ways, and each has his or her own pace of recovery. There are things that you can do to help a child through the grief process, which is important to do, as children often don’t understand their feelings, and may need your help, guidance, and support to cope.

The most important thing you can do is talk with your child, and encourage him or her to ask questions. Answer their questions as simply and accurately as you can.

Talk with the child about your feelings, and encourage the child to express his or her feelings. Listen to what the child says and how (s)he says it. Is the child expressing anxiety, fear, or insecurity?

Help them explore and understand these feelings. Watch the child at play to see what he or she is expressing here, as well. Children will often express strong emotions by acting them out through play.

While we’re on the subject of playing, consider providing toys and activities that help the child relieve stress. This can include modeling clay, finger-painting, playing in water, or other messy activities that allow them to express themselves and relieve tension and stress.

You may find the child wants to hit or kick things, or otherwise behaves aggressively. This is normal; encourage the child to express these feelings by hitting a pillow, stuffed toy, or a ball. This will allow them to express the anger and tension in a non-harmful way.

Reassure the child, letting him or her know that you’re going to help him or her through this, and that you’re in it together. You may need to repeat these reassurances several times, and you may also need to answer questions more than once.

It’s important that you not become impatient with the child if this happens. You may want to spend extra time with the child when you’re putting him or her to bed, and you may find that even children who haven’t been bothered by the dark in the past suddenly want a nightlight.

Touch is a key component of healing, especially for children. Hold and physically comfort the child–you may find this comforts you during a difficult time as well.

If you’re concerned that the child is taking a long time to heal, or isn’t getting his or her emotions worked through even with your help and support, you may want to consider finding a counselor for the child. Grief counselors and other mental health professionals are trained in helping both children and adults through stressful times and working through their grief.