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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published September 07 2013

Minding our Elders: Reach out when both of you are grieving over loss

Dear Carol: My dad died at age 84 after a long fight with cancer. The wonderful hospice care he received near the end was a great comfort to us at that time, but beyond that his absence now is just crushing. Even though we knew Dad was going to die, it still feels like a shock now that he’s gone. Dad and I did so much together that I feel as though I’ve lost my best friend. My mom is devastated and I know I should be strong for her when she wants to talk about memories of Dad, but I avoid those talks because I get too emotional. Since I’m an only child, I really feel that Mom needs me, but how do I help her when I’m still grieving? Dan

Dear Dan: Many readers can relate to your struggle. You’ve not only lost your father, but a companion and friend. I sense that when you say you avoid talking with your mom about your dad because you get too emotional, you are really afraid that you’ll cry, but your stoic resolve to not get too emotional in front of your mom may be backfiring. It’s very possible that sharing your honest grief with your mom – and yes, crying with her – will be healing for you both.

That being said, neither of you should expect to be the sole support for the other. Your mom is probably close to your dad’s age, so she likely has women friends who have become widows. These women may be a significant support group for your mom. If they haven’t come by to see her yet, you may want to let them know that your mom could use the company of people who’ve been through a similar situation. If your mother is involved in a church or other spiritual group, contact them if they haven’t contacted her.

For you, I’d suggest that you attend the hospice grief counseling sessions that most hospice organizations offer for up to 13 months after the death of a love one. There are also private grief counselors available. While both of these options may be good for your mom, as well, I’m suggesting this approach to you because younger generations are often more willing to go to a support group than their elders. By all means, if your mom wants to attend with you, take her along.

In the end, faith and gratitude that your dad is no longer suffering, plus the comfort of good people, will help you both. Since you’ve not only lost a parent and friend, but feel responsible for your remaining parent, you’ve got a heavy load to bear. However, don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t help your mom climb out of her grief. She’s lost her life partner and she’s at a fragile age. She’ll grieve differently than you will.

There is no time frame that is “right” for grief and no one way to grieve. It’s a process. Take care of yourself as well as your mom. Never fear that in working through your grief you’ll forget your dad. He’ll remain a part of you and your mom forever.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.