Helping a Bereaved Parent Live Alone

Losing a parent can be devastating. They raised you, and loved you, and you now face the daunting task of living without their support, while offering strength to others. Grief is an almost universal factor of life, and adapting to life alone after losing a partner can be particularly difficult and distressing. As well as dealing with loss and loneliness there may be challenging new household tasks to cope with, which will act as a constant reminder of a loved one’s absence.

Although the task may seem overwhelming, there are some simple things you can do to support your parent as they adjust to their new life.

Bereavement can be tough for the whole family, and when you lose your partner of a lifetime it can be even more of a struggle.

Couples fall into familiar patterns, with each person fulfilling particular roles, so adapting to paying the bills, cooking, making all the decisions and even taking the bins out can seem overwhelming.

It can take time, but with patience and support, your parent can gain the skills and the strength to live alone

Practical matters

The practical challenges of running a home can be intimidating.

Whether it’s gardening, laundry or balancing the books, your parent will have been used to sharing the daily tasks with their partner. Now they will have to learn new skills at a time when they are feeling vulnerable and alone.

You can help them by making a list of all the jobs that need doing, in order of priority.

It may be sensible to create a daily timetable and to-do list, so that important things don’t get overlooked or missed. If anything seems difficult or daunting then it may be time to recruit a helping hand (or, even better, several!).

Family and friends may be able to mow the lawn or pop a wash in the machine.

Make life as easy as possible by setting up direct debits for bills and arranging a regular online supermarket shop

It’s a great idea to make a list of helpful, reliable and trustworthy contacts. An odd job man, a gardener, a cleaner and a mini cab firm can be your parent’s back-up team.

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Care in the home

If your parent is frightened, anxious or struggling then they may benefit from some home care assistance. This is particularly important if the partner they have lost used to support and care for them.

Carers can be employed to come into the home to help with anything from chores to self-care, bathing and incontinence.

Most importantly, they can offer a friendly face and a chat, a break from being alone.

Emotional support

Isolation, loneliness and depression are all too common in the elderly bereaved.

Illness and mobility issues can make it difficult to get out and about and many people lack the confidence to attend social events without their partner by their side.

You may be doing your best to offer support, but it can be difficult to juggle work, home life and family demands. It may also be upsetting to support your parent, when you’re also grieving the loss of a loved one.

If your parent bottles up their feelings, is very down, or needs support with their grief, then it may help to see a professional. Their own doctor may prescribe anti-depressants or refer them for counselling.

Feeling angry, guilty or refusing to accept the death can all be stages in recovering from a loss, a counsellor can help the process of working through these safely.

Out and about

Age UK, say that group activities are a great way of preventing social isolation.

Have a look at local day centres or clubs to see if there are any activities or groups that may appeal to your parent as it’s a way to socialize and stay active. For anyone affected by dementia, check out the dedicated Alzheimer’s Society support groups for information, support and a little company too.

Virtual support

Even if you live a long way from your parent, the internet means that you can be on screen at the press of a button.

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Set up a face-time or Skype account, so that you can stay in touch. If your parent isn’t computer savvy, then encourage them to become a silver surfer by signing them up for a basic course.

Internet forums and chat rooms can be a great place to share their feelings, chat with others and have a virtual hug twenty-four hours a day.

Food for life

Depression and lack of motivation mean that many elderly people don’t get the nourishment they need. Too often it seems like too much hassle to cook a proper meal for one.

Make life easy by batch cooking meals for their freezer, or ensure that the supermarket delivery has plenty of easy to prepare snacks and light meals to tempt their appetite.

Four-legged friends

A pet can make a house seem much less lonely.

A cat or a dog can be a fantastic source of love, affection and company. They also provide a focus for the day, so that your parent knows they need to feed, walk and care for them. A dog is a great reason to get out and about and stay active.

Nothing and nobody can replace the loved one your parent has lost, but by encouraging them to stay social and active the hole that they have left may seem a little less gaping.

Dr Jane Gilbert

Jane has over 20 years’ experience as a health writer and TV presenter. Jane writes on a wide variety of clinical and care topics – from explaining the latest studies and research to unpacking conditions and discussing treatment options. Jane holds a MBBS degree from Imperial College, London and spent seven years working in the NHS.

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