Helping a Parent Cope with the Loss of a Spouse

Losing a spouse

The loss of a spouse can trigger intense grief for the surviving partner.[1] Adult children usually end up making logistical choices for the surviving parent’s long-term care while that parent deals with everyday reminders of their loss. Even though you may now be facing big decisions regarding your parent’s care, you are probably still dealing with your own grief and the weight of your loss. The coping mechanisms outlined in this article might help both you and your grieving parent.

Grief is associated with depression and anxiety, both of which threaten your parent’s health. To that end, seniors who experience depression and use antidepressants experience a greater fall risk.[2] As you help your parent cope with the loss of a spouse, you are also helping to prevent grief-related injuries and ailments.

Grief Takes a Health Toll

Acute grief describes the period of approximately 6-12 months after a loss. Persistent grief lasts longer than 12 months. Your parent’s grief could incapacitate them for an extended period of time and can seriously affect their health. 

The emotional impact of grief often presents as shock, sadness, guilt, anger, fear, and disbelief. However, grief can also manifest in a variety of physical ailments, including:

  • Aches and pains
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased immunity[3]

As you can see, grief can take a huge toll on the body. By helping your parent cope with the loss of their spouse, you are also helping them prioritize their health. Take care of yourself, too. Grief can be overwhelming. Just as you are there to support your parent, you should try to find someone who can help you through this difficult time as well.

Helping a Parent Cope with Grief

Losing a spouse can devastate someone’s emotional and physical health. Your aging parent might be feeling too overwhelmed to complete basic tasks, and the responsibility of completing essential tasks could fall to you.

Grieving a lost spouse is often accompanied by other types of grief, especially if there are financial implications. Your parent may find himself/herself unable to maintain their home, necessitating selling their house.[4] This is yet another loss and major lifestyle change. The following sections describe several strategies you can use to help a grieving parent cope. 

·                    Be patient and accepting.

You and your parent might both be going through an enormous, emotional transition. Grief can make people angry, reactive, withdrawn, morose, or any number of other emotions. Provide space for whatever emotions your parent might express. You should also make sure that you have an emotional outlet, as well. Since you are taking on a “grief caregiver” role, you should have a way to process your own emotions. 

·                    Support your parent’s health.

Grief takes a huge toll on the mind and body. Even though your parent might not have the energy for exercise, you can help them prioritize their health in a few different ways. You can make sure they have access to healthy, nutritious food by preparing meals and keeping the house stocked with options. Make time throughout the week to drop by for an easy walk around the neighborhood. 

·                    Take on organizational responsibilities.

When your parent feels ready, you can set aside time to go through important documents together. It is important to make sure your surviving parent’s finances and legal affairs are in order. Taking time to go through these documents now can avoid difficult situations later. If your parent is not able to do this with you, you can complete this task on your own, with a trusted family member or friend, or with the help of financial and legal professionals. 

·                    Don’t rush big decisions. 

Whenever possible, give your parent some time to cope before asking them to make larger decisions. However, there are small choices you can make either with your parent or by yourself that would not place unnecessary stress on your parent. For example, picking out a button alert system together is a quick, easy way to make your parent feel more secure without either of you having to think too much.

·                    Assist in finding emotional support.

Grief, especially persistent grief, often warrants professional help. Although you might provide your parent with comfort and support, some cases of grief are more than a loved one can – or should – handle. You can assist your parent in finding a bereavement support group or a medical professional. Grief support groups exist so that grieving individuals can connect with a community who understands their loss, and a medical professional can help people move through their grief.  

·                    Provide tools that make them feel safe and secure. 

Your parent may be living alone for the first time in a long time. This may be frightening or make them feel unsafe. You can help them to implement some easy changes around the house. The following tools will reduce your parent’s risk of falling, ultimately making their home a safer and more comfortable place. Some tools you can provide for your parent are:

  • Non-slip rugs. Slippery rugs are a huge risk to your parent’s safety. Eliminate that risk by using non-slip rugs.  If your parent is not ready to change things around the house, consider putting a non-slip layer under existing rugs. 
  • Handrails in the bathroom. Installing handrails next to the toilet and in the shower can prevent falls in the bathroom. It is difficult to sit down and get up from the toilet, and balance in the shower.
  • Accessible shelving. Move your parent’s essentials to the bottom shelf, including food, medication, and hygiene products. You may provide your parent with a reacher or grocer’s arm to reach higher shelves or grab something off the floor. 
  • A digital assistant. Some smart speakers will respond when asked a question. These digital assistants are a great way for your parent to check the weather or turn on music even if they are having a hard time completing other daily tasks.
  • A medical alert or personal emergency response system. This is an inexpensive and highly effective way to make your parent feel more secure. You can restore some of your parent’s confidence by providing them with an In-Home or On-the-Go option, depending on their activity level. 

A Medical Alert System May Make Your Parent Feel More Comfortable 

Since mental health plays a role in determining fall risk, it’s important to consider using a medical alert system as part of your grieving parent’s care plan. Losing a spouse can take a mental toll and make everyday tasks difficult. It may feel unsafe suddenly being alone when you’re used to always having someone else nearby. When you supply your parent with an alert pendant or an alert bracelet, you can alleviate some day-to-day stress and reduce the risk of falling. You can also have your own peace of mind knowing that your parent is one button-press away from securing help 24/7/365. At Alert1, our trained and certified Command Center agents will wait on the line with your parent until help arrives. This may be comforting for everyone in the family to know that your parent will never face an emergency situation alone. 

If your parent lives alone, you might consider choosing a medical alert system with fall detection technology. This means that if your parent falls, the fall detection technology can automatically sense the fall and alert the 24/7 Command Center that help is needed. Fall detection technology can provide both you and your parent with a sense of safety and reassurance. 

Integrating an Alert Button into Your Parent’s Life

You can help your parent select a medical alert system for seniors that best meets their needs, lifestyle, and budget. Different emergency button alert systems might make sense depending on your parent’s activity level. If your parent is home-bound or spends the majority of their time at home, then an In-Home + Fall Detection medical alert system might work best. 

A low-impact daily exercise regimen might boost your parent’s mental health. As you consult with them about which medical alert system fits their lifestyle best, make sure to consider their activity level. The On-the-Go Wrist Watch Medical Alert System + GPS + Pedometer is the perfect option for a senior with an active lifestyle.

This is likely a difficult time for your family. Hopefully, you and your parent are able to find comfort and some peace of mind by using some of these coping mechanisms in this difficult time of transition.







[1] Halpert, Julie. 2022, Jan. 7. How to Help a Loved One Through Sudden Loss. The New York Times. How to Help a Loved One Through Sudden Loss.

[2] Iaboni, Andrea. 2013, Feb. 6. The Complex Interplay of Depression and Falls in Older Adults: A Clinical Review. Canadian Institutes of Health Research American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. The Complex Interplay of Depression and Falls in Older Adults: A Clinical Review.

[3] Mendoza, Marilyn A. 2019, Sept. 4. When Grief Gets Physical. Psychology Today. When Grief Gets Physical.

[4] Stefanac, Rosalind. 2022, Jan. 17. There’s more than taxes to deal with when your spouse dies. Financial Post. There’s more than taxes to deal with when your spouse dies.