Encourage your grieving parent to exercise and take care of her health.

How to Help a Widowed Parent

by Carolyn Robbins

Most parents take care of all of a child's needs -- physical, emotional and psychological. With age, those roles are often reversed. Children start to look after their elderly parents, particularly after one is widowed. Talk to siblings and other family members to distribute care of your living parent. It's important to have strong support in the family so you can help your grieving parent while avoiding burn out.

Don't assume you know how your parent feels. While you both suffered a tremendous loss, your grief over the death of a parent will be different than your parent's sorrow at the death of a spouse. Your parent's emotions might run the gamut from anger to regret. Listen patiently to your parent's emotions even when what he expresses seems contradictory.

Be prepared for delayed grief. If your deceased parent suffered a long-term illness, the surviving parent is used to being on constant alert as a caregiver. He might remain caught up in the details of the funeral and his spouse's last wishes for months after her death. It can take awhile for grief to catch up.

Offer continued support. For a few weeks after the funeral, your parent will likely be overwhelmed by cards and sympathetic phone calls. Then friends will return to a normal life, and your parent will be alone. It might take years for your parent to assimilate the death of his spouse, and the best thing you can do is to be there for him while he processes the loss. Be particularly attentive on significant days such as your parents' wedding anniversary.

Be solicitous. Grief takes a physical and psychological toll on the body. Your parent's immune system might be weakened, making him susceptible to illness. Encourage your parent to make a trip to the doctor for a checkup. Cook him nutritious meals and ensure he gets out of the house for fresh air and exercise.

Protect your parent. A grieving person is susceptible to forgetfulness, lack of motivation and disorganization according to the American Hospice Association. Help your parent make appointments, pay bills and make decisions for the future. Advise him to avoid using dangerous equipment such as the lawn mower. If he lives alone, check in on your parent regularly to ensure he is able to keep the house clean and prepare his own meals.


  • Taking care of your living parent while grieving your own loss can be exhausting. Join a support group or find a counselor with whom you can share your feelings. Don't neglect your health either. Eat a well-balanced diet and make time for regular exercise.

About the Author

Carolyn Robbins began writing in 2006. Her work appears on various websites and covers various topics including neuroscience, physiology, nutrition and fitness. Robbins graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and theology from Saint Vincent College.

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