Just like taxes, we all know that death is inevitable, but that knowledge does not make it easy when one of your elderly parents dies and leaves the other behind. When two people have built a life together, it can be hard for the survivor to imagine being alone. While you are dealing with your own grief, you might need to turn some of your attention to your mom or dad. Here are tips for helping your elderly parent with the death of a spouse.
To Do List for the First Days
- Official Declaration. If your parent died in a hospital, the facility will take care of notifying the proper authorities. If he died at home, call his doctor to come to make a pronouncement of death. Let the medical personnel know the name of the mortuary to which they should transfer the body.
- Informing Loved Ones. Call a few close friends and relatives and ask them to contact others for you. Designate one person for everyone to contact for information about the funeral arrangements. Contact your clergy person and start the discussion about the religious aspect of the funeral and burial.
- Funeral Arrangements. Make sure that someone, who will not be tricked or intimidated, accompanies your parent to make the funeral arrangements. Some unethical funeral directors prey upon vulnerable, grieving people to make an unreasonable profit, like selling them a fancy casket for a cremation.
- Government and Money. Do not cash or deposit new Social Security checks. Notify the Social Security Administration to stop your deceased parent’s retirement check and apply for survivor’s benefits. Notify the bank and lawyer of the death. File life insurance claims.
- Medical Bills. Notify Medicare and Medicaid of the death. Do not let your surviving parent pay new medical bills, until the insurance has time to sort out who is legally liable for the expenses. This process can take several months.
Helping Your Parent Move Forward
You must assess whether your parent can comfortably and safely live alone. Many seniors can stay in their homes, rather than going into a nursing home or assisted living by hiring a little help with the housekeeping, yard work, bill paying or errands. Evaluate your parent’s needs and help him plan for aging in place. Dealing with losing his spouse is enough of a transition. It is usually best, if he does not also have to relocate right away.
Discover what tasks she must learn, if, for example, one parent typically took care of the bill paying and the other did the cooking. She might be rusty on some skills, if she has not used them much for many years.
The Emotional Aspects
New research indicates that instead of the traditional five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance falling in a linear path, the recently bereaved might fluctuate from one of these stages to another daily, quickly oscillating back and forth among many moods. Make sure your parent understands this, so he does not feel as if he is doing something “wrong.”
Many widows and widowers find their grief has lifted significantly within six months to three years after the loss. Holidays will be hard for your grieving parent, as she deals with the memories of previous years spent with her spouse. Encourage her to talk with a counselor or clergy member, if she would feel comfortable doing so.
On the weekends, help him write a loose schedule for the coming week, including errands, meal plans, going for walks and doing something he enjoys. Taking him out to lunch periodically can help him avoid withdrawing from society.
Money Crashers. “How to Help an Elderly Parent Deal With the Death of a Spouse.” (accessed July 11, 2018) https://www.moneycrashers.com/elderly-parent-deal-death-spouse/
National Institute on Aging. “Mourning the Death of a Spouse.” (accessed July 11, 2018) https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/mourning-death-spouse
AARP. “5 Surprising Truths About Grief.” (accessed July 11, 2018) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2017/truth-about-grief.html