When Your Spouse Loses a Parent

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Helping Your Spouse

One of the most difficult losses that anyone will likely experience in their lifetime is the loss of a parent. If you’ve never experienced this type of loss, helping your spouse get through it can be arduous. Most don’t have the words to say or try to rush them through the grieving process, which only prolongs recovery. When equipped with the right tools and support, you can help your spouse get through to brighter days.

Five Stages of Grief and How to Help

Not everyone goes through all five of these stages, and they may not go through them in any sequential order. It may also take more time to get through these stages than others. Below you will find a description of these stages and tips on how to help them cope through each one.

Stage 1: Denial (Isolation)

When your spouse initially finds out about the death of their parent, they will most likely try to deny that the situation occurred. This is very normal and is often how our minds rationalize these strong, overwhelming feelings. This is the best way for the mind to defend itself against the real emotion and shock that come afterwards.

What You Can Do: During the initial shock stages, there may not be much that you can do to console your spouse. This is partially because in their minds they have numbed it out and they’re doing their best to just not think about it. Try to be extra-aware of how they are acting and may be feeling, and simply be there for your spouse however they might need you to be. Whether that means holding them while they cry, listening to their rationalizations, or just sitting in silence.

Stage 2: Anger

At this point reality starts to kick in and this is when the real emotions will emerge. The emotions are so unbearable that the brain deflects from being vulnerable and thus becomes filled with anger. Unfortunately the anger that is displayed can be directed at anyone or anything, and in some cases can even be directed toward the deceased. While your spouse understands no one is to blame, this is how the brain rationalizes the emotions they are feeling.

What You Can Do: During this time your opinion or what you think your spouse should be doing is best kept to yourself. Do not personalize it and make yourself the victim of their emotions. Instead, follow your spouse’s lead. If they want to talk, listen; if they need space, give it to them, and when they get angry allow them to feel that emotion.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Typically after they’ve gotten past the anger, they try to regain control of their emotions and thus begin a “blame game”. For instance if the parent died of a terminal illness they will say, “If I had noticed the signs earlier, maybe they would be alive”. The blame does not always have to be on your spouse as it’s common to point the finger at others during this stage.

What You Can Do: Listen and allow them to rationalize what they are feeling. At this point in the grief process, telling them that it was not their fault or there was nothing anyone can do will fall upon deaf ears and in some cases can cause unnecessary arguments.

Stage 4: Depression

During this point of mourning your spouse is allowing all of his/her emotions to come to the forefront. They begin feeling guilty, vulnerable, angry, and sad on any given day and this can turn into depression.

What You Can Do: Now it is time to offer kind words of encouragement. Let your spouse know that you are there for them and that brighter days are ahead. Also, as they are depressed, it will help if you can take on some of the daily chores and things that used to be their responsibilities. Allow them to focus their time and energy on healing as much as you can.

Step 5: Acceptance

This step may take months or even years to get to and, unfortunately, some never get there. At this point their emotions have been sorted, reality has set in, and they are accepting the fact that their parent is no longer there.

What You Can Do: As they begin to get back to a sense of normalcy, talk with them on a day to day basis about how they’re feeling. Try bringing up fond memories and stories about their parent(s) and connect with them again.

It is important to point out that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It can take your spouse a few weeks, months, or even years to work through the pain. If you begin to notice that they are headed down the path to depression or just can’t move past their loss, consider reaching out to a trained counselor for help. The caring therapists at the Relationship Center of Orange County can help you both understand each other, get past the loss and move on to happier days. Please call us today at (949) 430-7132 , or schedule your appointment using our online calendar. We look forward to serving you.

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