Romantic relationships are so much easier when everything in life is going great. But what happens when tragedy strikes your partner and his or her world is turned upside down?
I am referring to the death of a spouse’s parent. The devastation and other intense emotions someone feel when losing their mom, their dad or a sibling can cause a lot of stress in a marriage, especially if the spouse does not know how to help.
“A person who loses a parent feels a wide range of emotions, such as relief (if their parent was suffering), shock (if their parent died suddenly), sadness, guilt, fear, despair, loneliness, anger, frustration, hopelessness, helplessness, and devastation,” said Dr. Nicole Gerber’s, Psy. D. , who has been in practice for 18 years. “It is important to just be with them during their grief and allow them to fully feel their emotions.”
Gerber said there is also a loss of identity that occurs when a person loses their parent, which can cause an overwhelming void.
It is a week today that my husband’s mother passed, and I am doing all I can to comfort him while he’s grieving for his mother. His mom was 70 years old and she had suffered a great deal with health issues during the last 3 years of her life. Her name was Margaret. A woman that my husband admired and loved dearly. He spent hours on the phone with her making sure she was okay and making sure she never felt lonely even though he lived 3 states away. He made sure to reassure her of his love each day on the phone and as a long distance truck driver, he even visited his mother often when he had loads heading to California where she resided.
The day just before she passed, he had talked and laughed with her on the phone for hours. And later told me how she showed signs of getting better and even sounded strengthened, so when she suddenly passed the following day, it took him by surprise leaving him very lost and confused.
My husband’s grief is coming in many waves of emotions and I must be there for every one of them. I wish there were a way that I could just take his pain away but grief does not work that way. It comes in waves…some thoughts bring tears of pain, confusion and hopelessness, while other tears are brought on by talking about the good memories and the love shared.
“I always provide space for my husband whenever waves hits!”
Here are Dr. Gerber’s four tips for helping your spouse when his or her parent dies.
1. Follow your partner’s lead. If they want to talk, then listen. If they need space, then give them space. Asking your partner, “What do you need from me?” is a good starting point. Communication is crucial.
2. Do not try to fix their problem because you cannot bring their parent back. Acknowledge and validate how hard it must be for them to have lost their parent. Offer support without judgment. Let your partner know that you are there for them if they need you. This is especially important if your spouse is pulling away from you.
3. Do not have a timeline in mind for where you think your partner should be with their grief. Grief does not come in nice, neat stages, but rather it comes in waves and feels more like a roller coaster of emotions. They may be grieving intensely one day and barely get out of bed and the next day they may be functioning perfectly fine. Be patient, attuned and attentive to where your partner is at and try to meet them there.
4. Helping your partner keep the memory of their parent alive is helpful to the grieving process. Telling stories, reminiscing, and sharing fond memories of that parent is important. Looking at pictures and videos and sharing rituals such as lighting a candle on their parent’s death day can also be helpful. Paying tribute to that parent by doing something like a walk for breast cancer in their memory or finding other meaningful ways to honor their memory is also important.
Just before I posted this blog, I texted my husband just to let him know that I loved him, and this was his reply…
In closing, just be there for folks that have lost loved ones. Sometimes that is the greatest gift of all.