Q: My mother had a big change last year. She became a widow and her father passed away within six months of each other. Both were unexpected. Now, she lives with our family. While she has her own living space, I still want her to get back to her life. What are some ways we can help her adapt to her new normal and get on with her life as a single person again?
A: The loss of a spouse or parent is never easy, but having both happen in a short time period can be especially challenging. She needs to go through the grieving process, while learning to live her life as a single person. Typically after a loss it is important that the person have time to grieve and not make any significant decisions or changes right away. She has to find her new normal and refocus time and energy on herself.
A good starting place is to determine what her support network is. This may be family, friends, church and sometimes social groups she is affiliated with. All of these connections will provide a resource for her. It may be someone to talk to, an ear to listen or opportunities to reconnect with people. You mentioned that she is residing with your family, so it will be important to have some boundaries in place and for everyone in the house to know what those are. You also have an opportunity to monitor for signs that she may be having trouble adjusting or dealing with losses she has experienced. If you have concerns, it may be appropriate to encourage her to speak to a counselor who specializes in grief counseling. As she goes through this process, here are a few things that might help her get back to her life:
- Create a journal. Write down things of interest, past hobbies and activities. Look for opportunities to reconnect to those activities.
- Make a list of her support network. Identify people she is comfortable being around during this transition.
- Update the address book. Get current contact information for other family members and friends.
- Talk about her short- and long-term goals. A short term goal might be to get back to an old routine. A long-term goal might be to plan a trip with one of her friends.
- Create a calendar of community events and activities that might be of interest. Talk about it weekly and offer to go with her to some of them, until she is comfortable going alone.
- Consider joining a grief support group. A support group provides an outlet to talk about how she is feeling and to connect to others who may have a similar experience.
- Create a bucket list. List new things she would like to experience in her life.
- Explore courses offered through local community colleges or recreation centers. These are often low-cost opportunities for learning.
- Encourage exercise and a healthy lifestyle. If we feel better on the inside, we are more likely to want to participate in things on the outside.
- Let her know that it is OK to grieve. Provide encouragement and opportunity, but do not push her to do things too quickly.
Each person experiences loss differently. She has lost a spouse, a father, the home where she lived, her routine, a familiar environment and her sense of connection to a partner to share life experiences. Encourage her by providing support and opportunities to build this next chapter of her life.
Readers may send questions to Amy Natt, an Aging Life Care™ Professional, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.