Dear Donna:

My dad passed away earlier this year and my mom is struggling. They were married almost 60 years, and she is having a difficult time coping with this loss. I don’t know what to do to help her. She is just lost without him.

I believe part of the challenge is that we lost him unexpectedly. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away within two weeks. We had no time to prepare ourselves for what we were about to experience.

Do you have any suggestions? With the holidays upon us, I’m sure the situation is about to get worse.

Kind regards,

Allyson in Holly, MI

Supporting a Grieving Parent

Dear Allyson:
I’d like to begin by expressing my condolences on the loss of your dad. While I know your concern is for your mother, it’s important to honor your own feelings and grief, too. Losing a parent is difficult at any age.

Since you asked for ideas to support your mother, I’ve pulled together some suggestions. Here are a few ways to help your mother cope with her loss:

  • Accept that grieving is essential for healing: The grieving process is hard work. Anger, sorrow, fear, guilt, and disbelief are common emotions those who are mourning experience. Watching someone you love work through this isn’t easy. But it’s important to remind yourself it is a necessary part of the healing process. Support your mother, but also realize how vital it is to give her time to work through these difficult emotions.
  • Talk about your dad together: Even the closest family members struggle with what to say when someone has experienced such a significant loss. You might be hesitant to bring up your father’s name for fear of upsetting your mother. But if you talk about him, it will give her permission to do the same without worrying she’s upsetting you. Sharing favorite memories and photos can be healing for both of you.
  • Refrain from setting unrealistic goals: Another mistake people make after losing a loved one is to set goals for processing grief. There is no set time frame for feeling “better” or packing up a lost family member’s belongings. Try to refrain from setting artificial and often unrealistic timelines. Unless you must make a decision or complete a task due to a firm deadline, do things when the two of you are ready. That includes cleaning out a loved one’s closet, canceling a cell phone, or selling a car. You’ll know when the time feels right.
  • Connect with a support group: Surviving spouses and adult children often say it is helpful to discuss their feelings with people who have experienced a similar loss. An in-person or virtual bereavement support group may help the two of you feel comfortable and understood as you are grieving. Hospice agencies usually offer them at a variety of times and locations, including online. Most don’t require your loved one to have been a patient for you to join.

One final suggestion is to consider talking with a therapist if you feel like your own grief or your mom’s is becoming too much to bear. Sites like and Grief in Common are good ones to explore if you need to find an experienced therapist.

I hope this information is helpful, Allyson. I wish you and your mother the best.

Kind regards,


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