How to Help When Your Spouse Loses a Parent

The death of a parent is one of the hardest losses in life, and most of us will experience this pain during our lifetimes. When it’s a spouse who has to cope with the grief of losing one of the most important people in his or her life, it can be hard to know how to help. Though the grieving process may last months or even years, these tips will help you comfort your spouse and bring the two of you closer together.

  1. Make the arrangements

    Immediately after your mother- or father-in-law dies, your spouse will likely be in shock or overwhelmed with emotions. Unfortunately, during this tough time, arrangements for your in-law’s funeral have to be made. Volunteer to help in any way possible. If the responsibility is on your spouse as the next-of-kin, consider taking over all of the planning so he or she can have more time to grieve, but make sure to consult your spouse on any sentimental aspects of the service. If your in-law was sick for a long time, most of the arrangements may already be settled, but volunteering to tie up any loose ends can be a huge help.

  2. Avoid clichés

    It can be hard to find the right words to say to someone going through grief. Many people worry about offending the person or making them cry. As your spouse’s support system, though, you have to avoid the clichés that are so often used but end up making the grieving person feel worse or more isolated. Cut these overused phrases out of your vocabulary:”I know how you feel.””Everything happens for a reason.”

    “It was just his time.”

    “Time heals all wounds.”

  3. Be there for your spouse

    Being there for your spouse may be easier said than done since they may react in a way you don’t completely understand. Since everyone deals with their grief differently, your spouse may unexpectedly act out in anger or sadness or pull away emotionally when you think he or she should be opening up. The best thing you can do is let him know that you are there for him, and then let him come to you if he wants to talk. Provide a listening ear, but don’t try to offer advice or push him to move on before he’s ready.

  4. Follow your spouse’s lead

    This tip ties into the previous one, as being supportive means taking things at your spouse’s pace and not forcing the grieving process to fit into any certain time frame. Some emotional phases might take months while others take a few days or are skipped over completely. Just be aware of how your spouse is dealing with the loss at any certain time and tailor your reaction to how they are feeling.

  5. Take over household responsibilities

    Sometimes, just handling the grief is all your spouse will be able to deal with. During these times, the best thing you can do is to offer practical help by taking care of some of the day-to-day responsibilities he normally handles. This could be anything from childcare to taking out the trash to running errands. Taking away some of the stress of daily chaos can keep your spouse from becoming overwhelmed and provide the necessary time to grieve. Just remember, if your spouse really wants to do one of the chores, be agreeable, as it might take his or her mind off of things.

  6. Talk about the parent

    You may feel you should avoid talking about your spouse’s parent since doing so may be painful and upsetting. But recounting fond memories of and actively grieving for your in-law can help your spouse to move on. Don’t push your spouse to discuss their parent before he or she is ready, but keep in mind that avoiding the subject can delay the acceptance of the loss. The memories may be bittersweet for your spouse, but talking about them will let him or her know you are thinking about your in-law too.