It has been just over a year since Mum passed away. Since then, my 90-year-old father was left behind to pick up the pieces of his own fragile life, trying to live on without her as best he can.
Mum’s death left a huge void in Dad’s life. When Mum passed away, Dad lost the woman who had been by his side for 60+ years. A spouse he had spent two-thirds of his life with.
Losing my mother, and learning how to live without her in my life, has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to deal with.
There have been plenty of ups and downs over the last year. Trying to deal with my own grief, while at the same time trying to help my elderly father with his, has been challenging at times.
Thank goodness I have very supportive siblings who assist with my father’s care. For those of you taking care of an elderly widowed parent on your own, kudos to you. I don’t know how you do it.
No matter how difficult it was for me, I quickly came to realize that I needed to focus on my father, and help him live a life without my mother. After all, I want my dad around as long as possible!
I have learned a great deal over the last year. I hope some of my tips can help you if you ever find yourself in the same circumstance…
Death Of A Parent – Helping Dad Live On After Mum Passed Away
First Things First
In addition to the emotional roller coaster that your parent will ride in the year after your other parent passes away, they will have to deal with a myriad of unpleasant tasks. Notifying friends and family, sorting out funeral and burial plans, dealing with debts, banking, and income tax issues – these are just a few of the things that you will need to assist with.
Don’t forget to help your parent check their emails and voicemail messages. After Mum passed away, I discovered some very important messages that had been received from friends and family in the weeks leading up to her death. Dad had been forgetting to check for messages.
No matter how much you need to assist your parent in this regard, always be sure to consult them throughout this process. They need to feel like they are a part of the decision-making process.
What A Wonderful Life
Surrounding your surviving parent with beautiful photos of their spouse, and their life together, can be very comforting for your parent. My dad sits amongst a collection of cherished memories – photos of my mum, and our family, at some of the happiest times of their life together.
Sort It Out
Your surviving parent will need assistance sorting through the possessions of your deceased parent. In fact, you may have to do it all as your elderly parent may find this task overwhelming.
My biggest piece of advice with this? Make sure you show your parent each and every thing you are throwing out, giving away, or keeping for yourself.
Do NOT assume that just because you think something is “junk” and should be thrown away, that your parent feels the same way.
Do NOT assume that your parent doesn’t want to hang on to that special item that you would also like to take home.
These are your parent’s possessions first and foremost, not yours, unless they tell you that you can take them. Be respectful and ask your parent about anything that leaves their home.
The Gift Of Your Presence
The loss of a spouse is devastating, no matter your age. It’s especially hard on your elderly parent who now faces life alone, at a time when it can be difficult for them just to survive.
Life is busy. I get it. Just remember, your surviving parent’s life may not be. Take time to visit your parent as often as you can. They live for your visits. Your parent would rather have your presence, than your presents. I’ve learned this. At times, when I’ve had to cancel a visit with my dad, I can hear the disappointment and sadness in his voice.
What’s For Supper?
Getting Dad to eat properly, since Mum passed away, has been challenging. He no longer has his spouse to enjoy meals with, and frankly, nutrition is the last thing on his mind. More often than not, despite the fact that he has meals waiting for him at the retirement home, he usually chooses to stay in his apartment and fend for himself.
To entice Dad to eat more, my siblings and I will usually take him out for lunch to one of his favourite fast food restaurants when we visit. We also bring healthy leftovers from home that are easy for him to heat up in the microwave. My aunt often bakes him homemade cookies to snack on.
I always make sure Dad has some pocket change on hand in case he’s craving some pizza. I call to order his favourite pizza, and they deliver to his door. All he has to do is pay.
Above all, be sure to enjoy a weekly meal with your parent. If you can, invite your parent to your place for a homemade dinner. This will be one of the highlights of their week!
Say My Name
No one wants to be forgotten after they pass away, nor do we want people to be afraid to mention our name in conversation. Your parent will want to reminisce about their spouse.
Talking about Mum, whenever the opportunity arises, helps my dad, and me. I regularly share funny or endearing stories about my mum with Dad, and often make him laugh.
A surprising benefit of these conversations? I’ve actually learned a thing or two I never knew about both my parents, since my mum passed away.
Pick Up The Phone
Live a long distance from your parent and can’t visit as often as you would like to? That’s okay. There are many other ways you can keep in touch these days. If your parent has embraced technology, you can easily keep in touch via live video, emails, and texts.
For parents who aren’t able to communicate this way, nothing beats a good old-fashioned phone call. Call often. Once a week is not often enough for an elderly parent. I call my dad twice daily. We don’t usually chat long but, my calls give him the chance to talk, and they allow me to verify he’s okay, and to obtain assistance for him if he is not.
Help Needed – Chores, Chores, Chores
If your elderly parent still lives in their own apartment like my dad does, no matter how independent they are, they will need assistance with chores.
Maybe it’s because they are not physically able to handle certain chores, or maybe it’s because it’s a chore your other parent used to handle. Whatever the reason, be sure to provide your parent with help with their chores. They may not ask but, you can be sure they will need your help.
Keep in mind things like cleaning their home, changing bedding, laundry, shopping, garbage and recycling, banking and paying bills, dealing with repairs, shopping, and any other chores your parent may need help with. If you cannot assist with these things, make sure you find someone who can.
Taking Stock Of The Inventory
There are many devices that can help your parent cope on their own. Look around their home and take note of what they may need.
Consider things like:
- a cane or walker
- a shower seat
- a raised toilet seat
- safety bars to help them get in and out of the shower or on and off the toilet
- a safety rail for their bed
- a power chair that helps them stand up from a sitting position
- hand sanitzer – to help prevent the spread of germs, especially in a retirement home
Let’s face it. The older we get, the more we need to visit the doctor. Your parent will need assistance getting to doctor and dental appointments on a fairly regular basis. If you cannot be there to help them get to their appointments, make sure you line up a way to help get them there.
It’s All Downhill From Here
No one likes to talk about this but, you must keep an eye on your parent’s hygiene. Simple tasks can become overwhelming for an elderly parent. They may need reminding to brush their teeth. They may need reminding to take a shower. They may need reminding to change their clothes.
My siblings and I constantly remind my dad to do these things. The one thing none of us thought about, until my dad finally spoke up and said something, was clipping his toenails. He could no longer do this for himself so he just let them grow. Let’s just say, when we finally realized we had neglected to think about this task, Dad was in the running for a Guinness World Record.
I’ve Fallen And I Can’t Get Up
Falls are the leading cause of injury and death for the elderly. A fall that resulted in a broken hip was essentially the cause of my mother’s death. The hip surgery, and resulting strain on her heart, was just too hard on her body.
Problem is, no matter how much care you and your parent take in trying to avoid falls, they will happen. Since mum passed away, Dad has fallen at least a half-dozen times. Honestly, I’ve lost count.
The latest fall, just last week, happened right before my very eyes. As he walked away from his chair, using his walker, his foot stumbled on the floor, and down he went. There was nothing I could do.
Luckily, the only thing Dad injured was his pride. Getting him back up on his feet was no small feat, but together we did it.
For the times my dad has needed assistance when no one was around, he has used his safety button to call for help. One push and help comes. Piece of mind for Dad…and for me. There are companies that offer this service if your parent lives on their own.
Never Take Things For Granted
A parent never stops parenting even if they cannot physically do things for you. A parent never stops worrying about the safety and well-being of their kids…even if those kids are middle-aged or seniors themselves!
My father still worries about me when I go on a trip, or have to drive across town at night. When I leave his place, he still asks for a phone call from me to let him know I got home safely.
Helping Dad live on after mum passed away has been a challenging experience for my siblings and me. But, I’m grateful that I have been around to be able to help my dad during this difficult year. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Have you had to help one of your parents face life without your other parent? Do you have any great advice from your experience that could help others? I would love you to share your advice with us in the comment section!