My father died recently and although I am slowly working through the grief, I’m very worried about my mother. She’s 67 and seems to be totally lost without my father. I have two teenage kids, so can’t be with her all the time. How do I help her become more independent without it looking like I’m pushing her away?
The death of a loved one can plunge us into emotional and practical turmoil. For your mother, like many women of her generation, having never really experienced total independence, it must seem like the world has turned upside down. Not only has she lost the person she loved and relied on the most, she now has to rebuild her life on her own, without any real experience of doing that.
She’s probably reeling from the loss and unable to move forward because she is unsure of what the future holds. But with you there to help and guide her, she will eventually be able to create a life for herself that will, of course, feel very different, but will nevertheless offer her enjoyment.
Naturally, this will take time and patience, as it’s important to work at her pace, rather than pushing her into doing things that she doesn’t feel ready to do.
Firstly, I think it would help you both to sit down, in a relaxed and private space, and really talk about how you both feel. This is a vital part of the grieving process and it will give you a much clearer picture of where she is at and how she feels.
Friends will also be an important part of her life now. It can be hard for a widow to feel like she can socialise with couples, so maybe encourage her to invite two or three of her close female friends over for a few hours to start with. You could also offer to be present to give her that extra bit of moral support she might feel she needs. However, if you believe your mum is completely overwhelmed by grief, it may be a good idea to get her some outside support. Talking therapies can help and they also have the benefit of being detached from the emotional involvement of the family, which may make it easier for her to open up and talk.
Once she has started to take those all-important steps forward with your help, encourage her to become more involved in the community in whatever way she might enjoy. This will help to broaden her social connections and also give her that sense of purpose she might be missing at the moment.
Finally, don’t forget to make time for yourself. You are at a time of life where you can feel you have such a lot of responsibility, because you are supporting two generations, so it’s really important to make sure you carve out space for yourself, not only to grieve fully, but also to recharge your batteries. This is vital if you’re going to stay strong and be there for your mother when she needs you, and to get over your own grief.