03/03/2021 by kim stevens 0 Comments
Coping With The Death Of An Elderly Parent
When we hear that an elderly person has died, we perhaps don’t experience the same level of disbelief as we do when someone younger has lost their life - especially if there has been some period of ill health beforehand. We hear phrases such as ‘they had a good innings’, or that they lived to ‘a ripe old age’...we might consider the fact that they lived a long and full life to be a comfort to their loved ones. And even though that might be true, if that elderly person is your mum or dad, there is no amount of preparation or words of comfort that can make losing them any easier.
As horrible as it may sound, we expect that our parents will die before us - it is nature’s way, and I think we can all agree that it’s unthinkable to outlive our children - but coping with the death of an elderly parent can be a long and difficult road. After the initial shock there is a whole slew of arrangements and details that need to be sorted out - financial issues such as insurance and the will, organising a funeral, and helping a surviving parent to come to terms with what has happened.
It can be stressful having to tell other family members and friends the news, sorting out paperwork and arranging time off work in order to sort out all the logistical details. You’ll probably find yourself having to put on a brave face, and putting your grief on hold while you comfort others - such as your children, who might not know how to handle losing a beloved grandparent.
When someone you love dies, age doesn’t come into it - your heart is broken and your life is forever changed.
Losing an elderly parent is a painful reality for many people, which is why Care In Kent have put together some tips to help make this transition a little easier.
No two people grieve the same way, so it’s important to remember that you, your surviving parent, younger children, teenage children, and other family members might not process the loss in the way that you expect.
Some people like to keep themselves busy; immerse themselves in work, school or their friends, and grieve in private. Others take on the role of clown - trying to raise the spirits of others to mask their own grief.
Try not to feel angry or bewildered if this is the case. We need to have a zero-judgement policy when it comes to grief. Just because someone isn’t visibly emotional it doesn’t mean they aren’t grieving in their own way.
Take A Break
You don’t have to dive straight into the task of sorting through a parent’s belongings as soon as they have passed. Give yourself permission to breathe - it might be too painful to deal with that right now. Wait until you feel emotionally ready to look through and organise those valuable keepsakes.
If a parent has died and there is more of a time limit to packing up their belongings - for example there is no surviving parent and their home is perhaps a council-owned property - there are storage facilities that you could use until the time comes when you feel ready to dedicate time to properly sorting through your parents things.
No one wants to start thinking or talking about money during such a difficult time as losing a parent, but the reality is that there will be important financial documents and bills that will need to be addressed.
You can make the process easier on yourself by creating a space dedicated to dealing with the financial and legal matters, rather than having paperwork strewn across the dinner table. It’s a good idea to buy a binder or organiser to keep everything in so that you’re not losing important documents and adding to the stress.
Look After Yourself
Grief is exhausting, and if you’re busy looking after other grieving family members, and dealing with funeral details etc it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. You’re going to be physically, emotionally and mentally worn out, so set aside some time to do something to help you rest and reset - taking a walk, listening to some favourite music, or meditating can all be ways to focus on yourself for a moment.
For some, part of self-care might include speaking to a professional such as a counsellor or therapist in order to help process a parent’s death. They can help to develop coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with grief.
Perhaps you feel skeptical about speaking to a stranger or worry that there is a stigma attached to seeking the help of a mental health professional - but this is not the time to think about keeping a stiff upper lip. If you have children who have just lost a grandparent it’s important to set an example by showing them that it’s ok to ask for help and to talk about your feelings. It’s ok to cry in the open, and to ask questions about death and dying; if your children see you doing that then they will too, which will help them to deal with their grief too.
Don’t Worry About Unexpected Emotions
Maybe your parent had been ill for a long time, or had reached an age older than you ever could have hoped; and if this is the case it could be that you had been considering the idea that you might lose them for some time.
Just because your brain has already understood that life might soon come to an end it doesn’t mean that your heart has kept up, and so the rush of emotions will still be overwhelming.
Perhaps you nursed your parent through an illness, or have visited them in a hospice; it could be that you have seen them suffering, or becoming someone you don’t quite recognise - or who doesn’t recognise you.
Maybe one of the emotions you felt when they passed was relief.
It doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Grief is not limited to one feeling, so don’t feel guilty for the range of emotions that you feel after losing a parent.
Helping A Surviving Parent
Your instinct when you lose a parent will be to support the emotional needs of the surviving parent. But there’ll be some logistical things to consider as well:
Was the parent who passed the one who did all the driving or who cooked all the meals? Did they take care of their partner on a daily basis - helping them to wash or dress perhaps? Remind them to take medication? Organise the finances?
Older people are more likely to have clearly-defined roles within their partnership; can the surviving parent comfortably take on the tasks and responsibilities of their partner who has passed?
Do you live too far away from your surviving parent to visit often? Do you have a demanding job or home life that means you can’t help out as much as you would like? Are you worried about how your mum or dad will spend their time now?
Organisations like Care In Kent can provide at home care and support, providing company, helping around the house or running errands. Don’t be afraid to ask for help - you don’t have to be alone in helping your surviving parent.
Ultimately, take one day at a time - and be kind to yourself. Eventually grief will allow you to celebrate the life of your parent; you’ll smile, and even laugh, at wonderful memories that you will cherish always. Just give yourself time.