Dear Family Resource,
My mom died almost a year ago. She was sick for 3 years and dad took an early retirement to stay home and care for her. Now that she’s gone, it’s like the life has gone right out of him. He’s so sad and doesn’t want to do any of the things he used to enjoy. My wife and I invite him to go to the movies, come over for dinner, or just hang out with our family but usually he says no; that he just needs to be at home right now. Also, he won’t change anything in the house. My mom’s clothes are still hanging in the closet! Dad is only 75 and we think he needs to move forward and rejoin the living. What can we do to help him?
I’m so sorry for your loss. The first year after losing a loved one can be terribly difficult. I think the best way to get through it is by not expecting or asking too much from your dad and by understanding that each of you is at a different stage of grieving and have different needs.
I know you’re worried, but I think it’s important that you and the rest of your family respect your dad’s feelings. The loss of your mom is still very fresh and it’s likely left him physically and emotionally exhausted. Plus, having first left his job, and then lost his wife, he no longer has a sense of routine. He’s not telling you he never wants to go to the movies or to dinner with you again; just that right now he needs to keep things low key. So instead of pushing him to do things he’s not ready for, maybe you can ask him whether there is anything you can do for him that would be comforting or helpful. Maybe your dad would like to look at family albums with you and talk about your mom. In time your dad will be ready for other activities but he’s the only one who will know when that time comes.
Meanwhile, just keep asking your dad what he wants and needs, and then honor that and support him as he grieves his own way. I promise that in the future the loss of your mom will become easier to bear but for now, I think this is the approach that will provide the most comfort. Good luck and my prayers are with you.