How to Help My Mom After My Father's Death?

Updated on April 05, 2019
E.G. asks from Rahway, NJ
11 answers

So my 88 year old father passed away in January after a 5 year general decline in health. He had been home bound for most of the last 3 years with now 82 year old Mom caring for him with some outside help. 20 years ago, they moved to a community an hour from all of us which Mom never wanted to do but it was Dad's way or the highway. There were many times we thought my Mom would run herself to death taking care of him. My father was a negative person with probably some kind of borderline personality disorder - he ordered my mother around like a trained seal. It was a dysfunctional relationship for most of my life. Dad was generous to a fault with money but otherwise difficult and stubborn. My mom has no self esteem after 60 years of this badgering. She is fearful of everything and has probably been depressed most of her adult life.

So after his death, she wanted to move close to us immediately. It took my 2 sisters and I 8 weeks to clean out her house and move her to a beautiful apartment in a retirement community. Mom wanted a "fresh start" so we bought all new furniture and set up the apartment for her, packed and moved her belongings. We took over paying her bills, making phone calls, having a cleaning service come in, etc. We want her to just have some joy in her life in the years she has left. She's been through a lot.

So we've gotten her settled. She doesn't want to drive anymore so we made sure the community we picked had lots of activities. There's something to do every day with classes, clubs, games, trips out, exercise groups, etc. She can walk to the clubhouse where all this stuff happens. Since she's been there, she has shown zero interest in anything that's going on. She basically stays in her apartment (doesn't even go out on the sunny balcony) unless I take her out shopping. I know nobody will believe me, but I honestly don't think she's in some kind of terrible mourning period. She talks about my Dad but not in an "I miss him" sort of way. We had a LONG time to prepare for his death. I thought she'd be wanting to do new things and enjoying her "free" life but she just doesn't seem to want to join in. Does anyone have some wisdom they can give me about this? I don't expect her to be dancing, but she just seems like the air has been let out of the balloon. I don't want her health which is otherwise good to go downhill from lack of movement.

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answers from Norfolk on

I think that after being a care giver for the last 3-5 years of her husbands life that she just wants to rest and not be responsible for anything for awhile.
Being social can be work - and she's not up for it for right now.
It's only been about 3 months since she's been off caregiver duty.
I think you need to give her a lot more time to get her bearings.
Also - if her husband was always barking orders at her - she's probably adjusting to making her own decisions - it's suddenly strange when no one is telling you what to do.
Just enjoying some peace and quiet IS enjoying her new free life.
Don't push her - she doesn't need you to take up where her husband left off.

7 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

We have been through this with losing my dad (years ago) and also with various family members on both sides. I am familiar with it firsthand.

What people go through when someone passes away, that they have been a partner to, especially if they have been a caregiver, is very complicated and unique to each person. It can be a grieving period of a life that is over (however dysfunctional) but it's what she knew, was her 'normal' and it's an enormous adjustment period. You just changed everything she knew. Yes, it might be for the better in terms of fresh start, but wow - what a change.

Sometimes, especially older people, have this kind of weakness that happens when they have a big change in their lives. It may not be clinical depression, but it's almost as if their body responds - physically, from a psychological upset. She may just not be up to socializing. It may be draining for her. She may not know how to be 'single' yet, not part of a couple - even if your parents didn't socialize much or whatever. If she has terrible self esteem, then getting out there will be hard too.

What I did with an older relative who joined a retirement community and found the adjustment hard was I went to some of these 'events' with them. We all did. We introduced them to people - because it was easier for us to strike up conversations with them. There was nothing at stake for us to go up and chat with people there. Your mom probably needs a new friend there - and there will be ladies who will be up for taking on a new friend/someone who just moved in - you just need to meet one. They will then introduce your mom to their group, and so on.

That's far easier than having your mom break into a group at bingo night, etc. It can be daunting. Until then, have yourself and relatives, go with her. There are always family days you can go and join in. Do that. Your mom will so appreciate it. It's time for you to spend time together too.

She may be very sad (even if it was a very dysfunctional relationship) because grief is grief. See if you can encourage her to just get out and walk each day. Some of these classes may seem a bit cliquey to her (some can be). That's why a friend (she'll meet some ladies if she's out walking or sitting outside) will be helpful. There's always a chatty outgoing sort that will notice a new person and befriend her.

It takes time, but your mom will adjust. I am sorry for your loss. Sounds like you're a very loving daughter :)

7 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think you have three great responses below.

One point mentioned is basically, old people can enjoy "vegging out" too! That's not just a teenager hobby! Your mom might genuinely be enjoying binging television shows with her feet up and quiet restful moments like that.

Also though, try "leading by example" - rather than pointing to the clubhouse and saying "GO - DO ACTIVITY", accompany her there! Be a mingle-er yourself. "Hi, I'm Suzy, Beth's daughter - have you met my mother Beth? May I introduce you?"

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

She may just be exhausted and enjoying the luxury of not having to do a darn thing and not having to be up and dressed and out the door on someone else's schedule. She finally has a place that is hers alone and that doesn't have him in it, and that may be wonderful.

On the other hand, she may have no ability to make decisions because she never has. He ruled the roost, and now you and your siblings are doing all the bill paying and organizing and even shopping - so maybe she just doesn't know how to make a decision or initiate anything.

If this is causing depression, then do something. Talk to the complex where she lives and see if there is a social worker on staff. Or call Elder Services and see what kind of outreach they do to assess people's mental health. There are also programs like "Home Instead" that provide a companion for even a few hours - my elderly cousin had someone come in ostensibly to drive him to the doctor or to the grocery store, but he was a retired social worker who also picked up on other cues and alerted the family to problems. He convinced our cousin to go to the senior center for program and lunches. Perhaps someone like that could come in for one "official" reason (taking her shopping because you "can't") and then saying, "How about you take me around this complex so I can learn more about it for other clients?" See if that gets your mother our of her place and into a room where an activity is going on. Have someone make sure she is eating (either going to meals or cooking her own) and attending to personal hygiene and medical appointments. Her doctor might even advise her to do some exercise classes with weights to help prevent osteoporosis and falls/balance problems. Perhaps that would motivate her.

But if she's happy and just enjoying the quiet, try not to force her to do what you think she should or what you would do in the same situation.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

She's been fearful most of her adult life. And depressed. Her husband who ordered her around and who she cared for is now no longer there. It has only been 3 months. I'd say give her time. But at the same time do things with her with zero pressure for her to socialize with others. Can you join her to do an activity in the community she lives in every once in a while? "Look, Mom, paint night! I've always wanted to try that. Do you want to do that together.?" Besides that give it time. Remember - it takes a year and a half to find a new normal and she is just at the beginning.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I help out with my 90 year old relative and she was depressed and anxious. She started an antidepressant and it has made a world of difference. I think her brain has just stopped producing serotonin. She even calls them her happy pills and feels so much better and full of new energy.

I'd take her in for a physical and go in with her and visit with the doctor. Good luck!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

oh, bless you. my family's situation is not, of course, exactly like yours, but i see so many points of commonality. i totally get your desire to have your mom find some joy and freedom and laughter and sunshine after her recent ordeal, and on a larger scale, after a lifetime of indentured servitude.

but our norms are our norms, and your mom spent a very very long time with her norm being told what to do and playing second fiddle. i'm sure she's also genuinely mourning, and at her age, she's doubtless overwhelmed with having such a new and bright paradigm trying to become her new norm.

i'd try to get her to do *one*- just one- new thing. get that part of her new routine. the bright freshness of her new surroundings, plus your thoughtful and necessary freeing of her from cleaning and managing her practical issues, have the natural but disorienting side effect of leaving her with nothing to do except all these new and overwhelming things.

this isn't a negative. you guys have done brilliantly. but she's just not able to swallow such a giant helping of good stuff.

baby steps. baby bites. if she's shy about meeting new people, maybe she'd be willing to walk down to the clubhouse and then home again, once a day. just do the walk. being outside in the fresh air would help her, and i guarantee some of the other residents would notice her and take the first step in including her in their friendships.

or maybe she'd be more motivated if someone were relying on her again. maybe the director of the community can come up with a shut-in who would enjoy it if your mom would go once a day to check on them, maybe to read to them or have a cup of tea and a snack.

i get how hard it is to watch your loved one sit in the middle of the opportunities you've worked so hard to make available for her, and sit alone and depressed in the middle of them and not take advantage of any of them. i really do.

try the Just One Thing philosophy, and try different things if those don't work.

some counseling or medication might be called for too, of course. don't leave them out.


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

You mentioned that she's probably been depressed most of her adult life. Even if your father was a trigger, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and that is not going to miraculously change now that your father is gone. Plus, major life changes are also triggers for depression and she's a lot of that going on (even if she's not mourning, being on her own after all this time is a major change, then add in the move, all new people in the new neighborhood, etc).

Maybe if you also consider that inability to self-motivate is a symptom of depression (which is a chemical imbalance, not just a mood), you'll see this as a medical issue, not just stubbornness or a personality trait. If she permits you to attend doctor's appointments with her, maybe you should go and talk about it. If not, you can still contact the doctor's office and let them know your concerns so that they can talk to her about it at her next appointment (even though they can't tell you the results in that case).

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I agree with what the other posters have said:
-it's an adjustment
-she needs some time to adjust, just be by herself and enjoy doing nothing
-after some time passes, ask her if you can go with her to an event at the clubhouse. You can strike up conversations with other residents, introduce yourselves & help her feel less uncomfortable. I would go to a few with her before she would feel comfortable going alone.

Remember to take cues from her If she doesn't want to go, don't force the issue and try to make her go. First, give her some space, then offer to go.
Drop it if she doesn't want to go.
Since she's closer, offer to take her shopping and to lunch.
Visit her. Spend time with her.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

It sounds like your mother has had a lifetime of everyone doing things for her.
I think everyone needs to step back and let her adjust to her ‘fresh start’. Let her figure out her new path, it may take her awhile.

People grieve differently, and go through the different stages of grief at different times. It is hard to know what someone is going through after the loss of a spouse.

Is she telling you she is unhappy? From your post, it sounds like this is more your issue.

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answers from Dallas on

I think she's depressed. My mom is in her 70s but we've known she's been depressed for years and we were finally able to address it within the last year or so. She's now on anti depressants and let me tell you is life changing for all of us! She lives in a retirement community too and it did take her a while to warm up to all the different activities, so I'm sure your mom just might need a little more time in that department, but medicine might make her more amenable to things!

Accompany her to the doctor or at least call her doctor if you can't go. I will say my mom was very resistant to the idea and her doctor didn't want to force her into but we kind of did force her. And honestly it was the best decision. We told her to try it for like 3 months and we made an appointment for follow up the same day she got the Rx so she could stop taking it after the follow up appointment if she wanted. By the time we got to that point she was so happy and felt so much better she wouldn't think of coming off.

1 mom found this helpful
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