There are unique challenges that accompany the loss of an elderly parent. You have to sift through your own emotions and painful memories, while helping your parent cope with theirs. It is a tough position, but yet an honor to be afforded the opportunity to walk through it hand-in-hand with them. You are the one who knows them best. You know their memory triggers, their personality traits, and the way they process grief. Of all people, you are the most qualified to handle the coming years. As they walk into this next stage of life, they will need the support of their family and close friends, the care of a few outside services, and the gentle reminder that they don’t have to walk this out alone.
There is a time to grieve and the first few months are typically the hardest. First holidays without their spouse come and go. There is one less place setting at the dinner table, and their home is filled with more silence than ever before. During this transitional time, consider asking a family member to temporarily move-in with your parent to help them adjust to their new life. This way, the house is a little less lonely and they can monitor your parent’s health and well-being.
Significant life changes, such as the death of a spouse, can lead to physical illnesses or cause a current sickness to worsen. Many times experiencing loss leads to isolation which could also cause depression. If your parent is not encouraged to remain active and social, they may have physical ailments such as muscle stiffness, blood circulation issues, and fatigue. This is why it is important to encourage visits from friends and family or schedule regular appointments with other services.
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Sometimes, monitoring your parent’s health and providing a social life for them is as simple as partnering with an outside service. In-home caregivers, for example, can help provide the medical attention that your parent might need. They can also help with routine tasks like driving them to their appointments or helping them bathe. Hiring a housekeeper is also a helpful investment in the future of your elderly parent. A clean house automatically creates a safer living environment, because there is less risk of bacteria and no clutter to cause a potential fall. Having an extra person routinely visiting your elderly parent will give you a little peace and remove one aspect of the responsibility of caring for another person.
After the initial mourning season has subsided, carefully address the idea of sorting through your parent’s items and decluttering their home. As they age, it might become difficult for them to let go of items previously belonging to their spouse, but removing unneeded items will help create a cleaner living environment. It will also help start the difficult journey toward downsizing. Perhaps you can introduce the conversation by asking them to reminisce with you about old items. Create an atmosphere of joy and peace around the change in order to soften the painful memories that could arise.
While this season is wearisome and emotional, it is also a precious time to build memories with your parent. Cherish the time you have and help them live out their years surrounded by the fullness of their family. Throughout the process of assisting your parent, take the time to allow yourself to grieve as well, supported by your friends and family and encouraged by your joyful memories. The mourning process is a journey meant to be walked out with those you love.
Written by: Jackie Waters