Losing a parent – no matter how old you are – is one of the most difficult experiences in life. Our caring team at St. Pierre Family Funeral & Cremation Services sits down every day to plan funerals with Indianapolis, Greenwood, and Pendleton families who are grieving the death of their mother or father. We see the complicated range of emotions that accompanies this loss: sadness, shock, helplessness, fear, relief (if their parent was suffering), and more.
We also see the unique role a spouse plays, as their husband or wife faces a new reality without their parent in it. This kind of loss can create a great deal of stress in a marriage, particularly when a spouse feels unsupported or alone in their grief. After all, both husband and wife are feeling the effects of the loss in their own way and that can cause difficulty all its own.
Over the years, many of our neighbors in Indiana and the surrounding areas have asked us how to help their husband or wife during such a painful time. Is it best to give them space or remain more attentive? How can you strike a balance between the two? Should you put on a happy face, sharing memories and telling stories about their parent or will that create more sadness? What are practical ways to offer comfort now – and in the days and weeks to come?
If your spouse is coping with a death of their mother or father, we recommend the following tips to support them during this difficult time.
- Follow your spouse’s lead. If they want to talk, take time to listen. If they need time alone, don’t take offense. If they find it helpful to share memories and stories or look through photo albums, let them know you are by their side.
- Acknowledge and validate how hard it is to lose a parent. Regardless of your spouse’s relationship with their mom or dad, this type of loss can bring about unfamiliar questions and feelings about mortality and the meaning of life. It’s common for the depth of emotions to catch a person by surprise.
- Remember that grief is not linear. Just when life seems to return to “normal,” a new wave of pain might come on. Your spouse may appear happy one day and barely able to get out of bed the next. It’s important to be patient and keep expectations at bay. We’ve heard people say things like, “I thought you’d have moved on by now,” or “Haven’t you grieved long enough?” Instead of questioning grief or becoming angry or impatient, remember that healing is a process. Trying to meet them where they are is most important.
- Don’t try to “fix” anything; simply offer comfort and reassurance. Many people can relate to being fixers, as they want to come up with solutions and answers during hard times. Rather, it’s best to be there to listen – even when your spouse tells the same stories or asks the same questions over and over again. Offer reassurance that you are by their side during the healing journey, no matter how long it takes.
- Help your spouse honor their parent’s memory. There are many ways to pay tribute to someone who has died. This may mean being there with your spouse to make funeral and burial arrangements in the days after the loss. Plan a reception featuring their favorite food and drink. In the weeks and months after the funeral, visit their parent’s final resting place together. Look at old photos or videos and find meaningful ways to celebrate what made that person special.
Many on staff at St. Pierre have either experienced the death of a parent ourselves or walked through the grief journey with our spouse. We know how much it means to have a community of support during difficult times. This is why we offer assistance in the form of resources and interactive grief support.