The death of a parent can be a devastating experience for anyone. But when it is your spouse who goes through this, it can affect your entire family for days together. So if your spouse has lost a parent recently, here are a few ways you can support him/her and get back your family life on track.
Just be there
One of the most important ways you can help your spouse at this difficult time is to let him/her know that you are around. In case he/she needs to talk about the tremendous loss, be there to listen and should he/she wish to express their painful emotions, be ready to lend a shoulder. At the same time be willing to sit in caring silence if your spouse doesn't want to talk about the bereavement. Don’t nag or fuss over them if they wish to be left alone. If your partner requests a distraction, like a desire to get out of this house, take them somewhere or let them go for a walk. This way your spouse will know that you are available for support and yet he/she will not feel emotionally suffocated.
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Let them mourn as they wish to
It is important to realize that there is no wrong way of grieving and different people take different routes to come to terms with their loss. So let your spouse decide the pace of mourning. He/she could become sad and withdrawn after the death of a parent or feel immense anger and rage at their loss. If your spouse wasn’t around the parent at the time of death or shared a strained relationship with the parent, it is also possible he/she could suffer from a sense of guilt. So don’t force your partner to “let it all out” if he/she seems aloof and withdrawn. Likewise don’t compel your spouse to “take a break” if they wish to get back to work soon after their bereavement. Grief over the loss of a parent is an individual journey and there is no fixed route or time period of mourning.
As your spouse is coping with the loss of a parent, be prepared to witness mood swings and extreme emotions in him/her. Your partner may be sad and withdrawn one day but angry and loud the next. He/she may be irritated at minor things and ready to take offence where none is intended. What may hurt you most is to watch your children get the worst of your spouse’s moods and outbursts. So during this stage of mourning, allow your spouse to have as much space and time to him/herself as possible. Don’t bother him/her with domestic matters and petty finances. And above all accept that these varied emotions are part of your partner’s attempt at processing the overwhelming experience of loss and abandonment.
Show that you care
Even as you are willing to offer privacy to your spouse to grieve over his/her loss, ensure that he/she is assured of your love and support. Sometimes you may not be able to come up with the right words to tell them that you know how they are feeling; indeed at such times words may seem woefully inadequate to express the pain in your spouse’s heart. This is why people who are unsure what to say to a bereaved person often employ clichés. This can sound uncaring to a person enduring profound grief. So before addressing a grieving spouse weigh your words carefully and think about how they would sound to you in the reverse situation. Speak simply and from the heart or not at all. Very often just holding your spouse’s hands, performing an important chore that they used to or making him/her a cup of coffee at an odd hour of the day can speak volumes of your love and support as compared to trite, ‘funeral chat’.
Different people need different length of time of time to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. For some, a few weeks can suffice before they feel strong to get back to the daily humdrum of life. For others the feelings of overwhelming loss and abandonment can continue for several months. At these times, you need to be patient and allow your partner to cross all the stages of grieving. In the meantime, get on with your life and that of your family. Maintain your daily schedule and do everything that used to form part of your family routine. If Friday nights were pizza nights for the whole family, do the same but be understanding if your spouse wishes to be excused. The more he/she feels the comfort and familiarity of regular family routine, the easier it will be for him/her to return to normal living.
Sometimes though some individuals need help to come to terms with the loss of someone very close, like a parent. There may have been unresolved issues between the mourner and the departed which have created a chasm in the psyche of the former. If you feel that your spouse is taking uncharacteristically long to grieve and having difficulty in returning to normal life, then it may be time to seek help. Also a longer than usual period of mourning may create excessive pressure on the partner who is saddled with the daily business of living. You as the less-affected partner may be juggling a career, kids, domestic duties as well as an indisposed spouse – conditions which are enough to push you to the edge if this goes on for too long. If things seem out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to seek help for your spouse. You could ask a close, trustworthy family member or friend to have a chat with your partner. If that doesn’t work out, encourage him/her to talk to a counselor or therapist. Whether your spouse agrees or not, be sure to take care of your own physical and emotional health since your entire family maybe depending on you at this crucial time.