Tips for supporting your grieving parent

4 min read

If one of your parents has recently died, you are likely experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, especially if your other parent is still alive. Not only are you dealing with your own grief, but you may feel a need to help and comfort your grieving parent as well.

As you mourn the loss of your parent, while helping your other parent grieve their spouse, there are some important things to keep in mind.

Remember that everyone grieves differently

While you are both mourning the same person, remember that you are not grieving the same relationship.

You may not be able to anticipate how your parent will respond to the loss of their spouse. For instance, there could be a lot of anger where you assumed there would be sadness, or denial where you thought there might be relief or acceptance.

Be open to how your parent is grieving. Don’t assume they’ll be done grieving by a specific date or that they’ll follow orderly stages of grief. Allow them the time and space they need, without judgment.

Above all, if you are not on the same page as your parent in terms of how they’re dealing with their loss, keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself.

Mind the (generation) gap

Social media has changed not only the way we grieve, but how we share our grief with others as well. Remember that what feels natural to you may seem strange to someone your parent’s age.

For instance, you may think your social media accounts are a great place to memorialize the parent who has passed away, bur your surviving parent might feel differently. While death shouldn’t be a taboo subject, some people still feel it has no place on social media—especially when the loss is so recent.

If you want to memorialize your parent on social media, that’s your choice, but don’t push your other parent to be involved unless they’re interested in it. And don’t tag them in photos or stories about your parent who has died without discussing it with them first.

Follow their lead

You can support your grieving parent by simply meeting them where they are. If they want space, for example, give them space. If they can’t bear to be alone, keep them company.

If they want to talk about your parent who has passed away, even if it’s to gripe about their shortcomings, try your best to listen. If they want to cry and not say a word, give them your shoulder and a box of tissues.

It’s about being there for them in whatever capacity they need you, not swooping in and trying to "fix” the situation. This is, after all, an unfixable situation.

If your parent can’t verbalize what they need, follow their cues. Not everyone is able to express themselves well, especially during difficult times, so be mindful of this. 

The caveat to all of this: remember that you are in grief as well. If you do not have the capacity to support them in this way, take some time for yourself. Better yet, find a support system outside of your relationship with your parent—and when you’re up to it, lend your support again.

Avoid comparisons

You are both grieving in your own ways and dealing with the profound loss as best you can. As much as your surviving parent is suffering from losing a spouse, they know that you lost a parent.

Whenever appropriate, share your loss with them and let them know how you’re feeling. Talk about your memories, the good times, the challenging times, and the stories that you know will make you both laugh.

Whatever you do, however, don’t compare your pain. Grief is not a competition.

Take some to-do list items

Whether it is planning the funeral, reaching out to friends and family, or dealing with things like bank accounts and credit cards, there’s a lot to be done. And if your parent is the executor of the will, they have extra legal and financial responsibilities while the estate goes through probate.

Add to this shock of learning to live without your spouse, and your grieving parent has a lot of their plate. They may be struggling with these tasks.

Offering to help in any way you can make a big difference. You might, for example, volunteer to locate every important document—bank statements, insurance policies, deeds, etc.—and get them in order for your parent. You may not be the executor of the estate, but you can be a huge help in getting everything together and ready for the probate process.

Keep a watchful eye on their health

Grief doesn’t just take a toll on our mental and emotional states. It affects our bodies, too. It can even weaken the immune system, making those who are grieving more susceptible to illness.

As you support your surviving parent, try to ensure they’re eating right, showering regularly, and getting out of bed every day, as much as it might hurt them to do so.

If they do come down with a cold or illness, they may not be in the mindset to pay attention or do what they need to do to heal.

You may not be used to stepping in and leading the way with your parent, but when it comes to their health during grief, that may be exactly what you’ll need to do. Make sure they’re getting the rest and the medicine they need so that minor illnesses do not progress into larger problems.

Know when you’ve given all you can

Because you’re grieving too, it’s important to check in with yourself and know exactly how much bandwidth you have for both yourself and your grieving parent.

If you have siblings who can help, divide up the responsibility so no one is too overwhelmed. As much as you may want to show up every day and be a superhero for your mom or dad, that’s not realistic. You’re only human, and your own grief is just as valid and deserving of space and time.

If you find you’ve given all you can and have nothing left, but your parent is still in need, look into groups that can offer them support. There are many groups for people who have lost their spouses, both in person and online, and they can be extremely beneficial for your parent during this time.

Finally, don’t forget your extended family and friends. Often people want to help but don't know how. Suggesting days and times when they can check in on your parent every week, for example, can help give them the support they need—bit by bit ●