My sister-in-law has been the caregiver to her father, who died 2 years ago, and more recently to her spouse of 35 years who died 2 months ago after being hospitalized for 6 months. She lives several states away but my husband and I were able to visit her for several days just after her husband's death and have had nearly daily phone contact with her since. Generally we think she's doing okay -- able to talk about what happened, expressing emotions, grieving, etc. But we've noticed she has this tendency to berate herself. At first it was about taking her husband into the ER -- if she hadn't done that...he wouldn't be dead so it was her fault. We worked with her on the faulty logic of that, though it continued to come up for a while (thankfully it stopped). But more recently she's gotten into this habit of, when trying to describe something and getting frustrated, saying "Susan [which is herself], get a grip" or "Susan, you're so stupid." Yesterday after saying this she went on and on about how much of an idiot she is, how pathetic and so on. She just gets into these little fits of berating herself.
My husband and I have of course told her she is NOT stupid (and she's nowhere close!) and that she needs to stop talking like this because it's not helpful to her. We've asked her in the past if she's thought about seeing a counselor or going to bereavement counseling and she says yes, but that's as far as it goes. We honestly are at the point where we are getting angry that she does this to herself, which we know isn't helpful! If we ask her why she says these things she'll go into the faulty logic like before. And of course we'll point out why it's faulty. Part of us think this is an attention-getting act, but then we don't get it because we are giving her as much attention as we can already!
I'm sure she's depressed (who wouldn't be!) and maybe some of this stems from that. But I also do think she has a problem with low self-esteem although she is a very, very capable woman who had a successful and responsible working career. We have tried to be mindful that she's going through a lot and of course feels very lonely (she mentions this frequently). Most of the time we just talk about everyday things and try to make her laugh, or discuss current affairs (though try to steer off some of those topics because she gets very angry sometimes). Sometimes we try to talk about the future, for example, she used to enjoy traveling so we've shared group travel itineraries that she could do as a single, which I'm sure it hard to think about, but we're just trying to plant the seed. I don't think we're pushy at all on this stuff -- just mention it occasionally and tell her it's something to think about when she's ready.
Just fyi she has no kids and no one else for whom to do caregiving so I'm sure that plays into all this, too.
Any thoughts on how to handle this? We find it distressing.