Dear Carol: My dad died several months ago at age 74. Mom is 69. We’re grieving Dad’s loss, but everyone except mom is also relieved that his suffering is over. I understand that Mom lost her long-time mate, but she knows how badly he suffered.
Even before the isolation that we now have, she was depressed because she saw no future for herself and, of course, now it’s worse. I’ve asked her doctor about an antidepressant, but he said that medication won’t help her and may harm her. We all miss the physical contact that we had, but we’ve been spending a lot of time with her on FaceTime. I’m afraid, though, that all we talk about is the virus so I’m not sure we’re helping that much. What else can we do? — LP.
Dear LP: I’m sorry about your dad’s death and your family’s grief. Our current situation obviously makes this exponentially harder for all of you.
Your mom’s been responding like many who’ve lost a longtime partner though we can hope that time will ease her pain enough so that she can again find some enjoyment in daily life. Sadly, our need to socially isolate is making her ability to find that meaning in life much harder.
Understand that you are doing what you can under these difficult circumstances, but maybe there are options that can help you expand your horizons. Here are some ideas:
- Talk with your mom regularly about your dad and how much you miss him. Reminisce about good memories of life with him. That’s counterintuitive for many people because they are afraid to “open the wound.” However, most people who’ve lost a loved one want to talk about the person, and this is no different for older people who’ve lost a spouse. Prompt her to tell you stories about their life together, encouraging humor as well as love.
- Ask her questions about when they first started seeing each other. Ask her about her own childhood experiences. Keep her talking and feeling valued.
- Jointly create an official life story via any number of apps and programs. An online search using something like “senior life stories” will bring up many choices. Timeslips.org is one such vehicle.
- Remind your mom that you all need her. Knowing this can help motivate her to move forward in her grief so that she can continue to contribute to the family.
- Remain aware of special days and holidays as you move forward so that you can plan approaches that will help your whole family get through them. That could mean doing something special to honor your dad even if it’s online.
- Grief counseling is an option if she is willing. Again, this can be done remotely if necessary.
Your mom will probably grieve in some way the rest of her life, and unfortunately, there’s nothing that you can do to prevent it. Given this reality, your presence reminds her of your enduring love. This is true whether that presence is in person or online.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.