Q: How can I help my elderly mother get over the death of her spouse?
A: Grieving over the loss of a spouse is one of the most difficult things we go through in life. It is very individual, and can take a year, or longer, before a grieving elderly person feels a lessening of the sadness and devastation. We don't really get over such a loss, we learn to better cope with and accept reality.
However, we can do things for ourselves that restore a sense of purpose and provide structure and meaning to our lives, creating better mental health, even while the grieving process is going on. Being present for your mother is one of the important things you can do. Invite her to activities, or just spend time together doing things she would normally like to do. Include her in your life to the extent that she is willing. Offer to visit, cook a meal together, see a movie or play cards, for example, if those are things she would usually like. Keep trying. Ask her if she would like to talk.
Sometimes, grieving can lead to depression that doesn't let up. Rule of thumb, if it has been over one year since the death of a spouse without some progress forward, then it is time to consult the doctor. In those instances, encourage her to see her doctor to be evaluated for anti-depressant medication on a temporary basis. This can often help get a person get unstuck. Grieving is not a mental illness, but the sometimes accompanying depression can be very hard to overcome without medication.
Encourage her to see her doctor if she seems to be "lost" in the process, and find out if medication and or counseling can help.
Dr. Mikol Davis is a psychologist specializing in aging issues. He is the author of "Rainbows of Life" and founder of the Aging Parents website. Read his full biography