Grief is an experience we all have at some point of our lives. However, how do you grieve if you lose a parent and have a surviving parent who needs comfort?

Every person processes grief differently. Losing a spouse is not the same thing as losing a parent. You can empathize with your surviving parent, but never assume that you know exactly how they feel.

Do your best to be patient and understanding with them. You can help your parent by:

  • Letting them convey their grief how they need to
  • Encouraging them to talk about their emotions and listen
  • Attending to their physical needs
  • Keeping track and acknowledging anniversaries and significant dates
  • Making sure they get the care that they need

Doing these things mentioned above is not quite easy though when you are also grieving a loss. With grieving, comes a variety of things such as hopelessness, disorganization, lack of motivation, and forgetfulness. Often at a time when emotional support is needed, tensions show up and bring problems. It is at this time it is most vital to be patient with one another. 

In addition to taking time to mourn, both you and your surviving parent need plenty of rest, exercise, and a healthy diet. Your bodies will need to be healthy in order to handle the stress all of these emotions can bring. Try to make sure you both are getting sleep and eating properly.

1. Be present

One of the best gifts you can give your parent is showing up. Long past the time when the outside world has stopped sending cards or asking them how they are doing is especially important. People sometimes fail in this area because they fear saying the wrong thing to someone. Simply showing up and listening to your parent is all that is needed.

2. Be patient with the grieving process

There is no “right” way to grieve. Everyone processes losing someone differently. Sometimes with grief there is a delay. Your parent may have suffered a long-term illness, requiring your parent’s constant attention and care. They may deny that they are grieving because the death was expected.  They may seem fine for the first weeks or even months. However, you should be prepared for their grief to surface at some point. Do not judge a person’s grief, there is no set timetable in the process.

3. Take care of yourself

Helping a grieving person takes a lot of strength. You can’t properly take care of someone if you are neglecting yourself. An important way to help your parent is by making sure you get plenty of rest, eating well, being active, and drinking plenty of fluids. Attend to your emotional needs and be patient with yourself and the grieving process. Grief is stressful and debilitating. Stress impairs the immune system. Taking care of your body will make a big difference. Make sure your doctor knows what is going on so they can help monitor your health if necessary.

In addition to grieving, you may also be facing feelings about your own aging and death. The death of a parent brings us face to face with our own mortality and the reality that comes with it. Express your feelings appropriately, and encourage your parent to do the same. You might also seek professional guidance. If your emotions are overwhelming, consider seeing a licensed therapist who specializes in grief. 

4. Listen to your parent 

A great way to support your grieving parent is to listen to them. People often talk through their trauma in order to process what is happening to them. They want to remember and they want their spouse to be talked about. Keep listening even if the same stories are repeated. Grief is a journey and talking about it is a way through through the stages.

Let them express their feelings, and offer love and support. If you worry that they might actually hurt themself, or if you notice they are dealing with sadness by using alcohol or drugs, talk to their physician immediately.

Grief is physically exhausting. It can actually make someone ill. If your parent’s grief seems to be hurting their health, make sure their doctor knows about their loss so they can help monitor their condition if necessary.

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