« Return to Ageless Advice

Journey of Caregiver

Helping Widowed Parents Through Milestone Events

elderly widowed woman being comforted by adult child daughter in room

“My mom’s been gone about two years, but my dad still has a hard time during holidays and big dates like their anniversary, her birthday and Mother’s Day. I want to help maybe make these days easier, but I don’t know how.”

It’s normal for a widow or widower’s grief to intensify around significant dates. These days are painful reminders that their loved one isn’t here to share in the celebration. And they may still be painful reminders for you, too. So how can you navigate these milestones with your parent?

David Kessler, an author who focuses on helping others through the grieving process, writes: “Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It’s not the grief you want to avoid, it’s the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain.”

Kessler and other grief experts recommend that instead of trying to avoid those difficult milestones, find ways to honor both the memory of the loved one and the grief of those left behind. Here are some suggestions to help your parent work through those days in a more positive way:

  • Be prepared. Talk with your parent about what those significant dates might be and acknowledge their grief may reawaken around those times. Knowing that can help everyone understand those feelings and possibly turn them into opportunities for healing.
  • Give loss time and space. Taking a moment to acknowledge that person and their absence is important. It can be as simple as lighting a candle for them, saying a prayer about them before a holiday meal, or sharing favorite stories about them. It’s a way for everyone to feel what they need to feel, and to let your parent know their loved one hasn’t been forgotten.
  • Do something different. Think about changing up the holiday routine or adding something new to it. Celebrating the holidays in a different family member’s home or even in a totally neutral place may help minimize emotional triggers. For a birthday or other significant date, consider serving others in some way. Making a charitable donation in the loved one’s name or volunteering somewhere can be a good way to channel emotions and bring a positive association to that day.
  • Connect with others. Being able to reminisce with friends and family not only keeps their memory alive, but gives your parent a healthy outlet and encourages them to remember the good things, not just their loss. It can also be helpful to plan fun outings with friends to help combat feelings of isolation.
  • Let them do what’s right for them. Everyone grieves differently, and your parent needs permission to feel a mix of emotions on these days. And they need to do what feels right to work through their feelings. If your parent needs to be surrounded by others, help rally the troops. If they need to stay home and process alone, don’t insist they get out of the house. Ask them how they need to spend the day, and respect their decision.

There’s no single solution for making it through calendar milestones after loss. And there’s no timetable for grief. But talking with them, listening to them and being proactive can help both of you make it through these difficult days in a healthier way.

What’s worked for your family? You can share in the contact form comment box.


Explore more Ageless Advice categories:

Journey of Caregiver

Help, perspective and hope for the primary caregivers of older loved ones.

View all posts »