Q: My father passed away this past winter after a long illness. I miss him every day. My mother seems to be stuck in the grieving process and withdraws from other family members and friends. Is this normal? What can we do to help?
A: The experience of grief differs from one person to the next. The stages of grief are said to be disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and acceptance.
People don’t necessarily experience each stage, and they may not experience them in any particular order. Some stages will seem logical and others out of the ordinary.
A spouse could have intense feelings of guilt and question if they did enough to make sure their loved one was getting the best care. They may have misgivings about whether they were an effective advocate with the medical system or sensitive and patient during the illness.
A spouse may question whether they expressed how much they loved the person. There may be no valid reasons for the feelings, but they can occur and cause significant pain for the bereaved individual.
Grief triggers are events that remind someone of their loss, such as holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, which understandably make that first year following a death a challenge. The trigger can also be something as simple as the thought of eating at their favorite restaurant, hearing a song on the radio, a television show they always watched together, and a host of other occurrences.
This past year has not been easy on any of us. Odds are the pandemic and its impact on our lives may have added to your mother’s struggles.
Individuals may experience grief for a longer period due to their physical and emotional health before the loss, the intensity of the relationship and the nature of death. Prolonged grief is when it lasts longer than a year.
The person’s ability to function and remain engaged in day-to-day activities may deteriorate. Some people find it helpful to attend grief support groups, while others find it depressing. One-on-one sessions with a therapist are more beneficial for some people.
Be careful about what you say to your mother. Well-intended statements that may seem appropriate are not always helpful to the grieving person. Comments like “it’s time to move on,” or “at least he’s not suffering anymore” should be avoided.
Your role is to support her during this difficult time. If she continues to withdraw, encourage her to seek guidance from a professional grief counselor.
Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.esmv.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.