How to manage the loss of a parent—while supporting a surviving parent

Supporting someone whose spouse has passed away is never easy, but it’s especially challenging when the deceased is your parent. You may wonder how you can be there for your surviving parent—all while mourning the loss yourself.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to remember that losing a spouse isn’t the same as losing a parent. Each loss comes with its own unique set of griefs and challenges, but life can be particularly overwhelming for a surviving spouse. Surviving spouses have often lost their long-time partner, everyday companion, best friend and possibly caregiver. Your surviving parent may now be living alone for the first time in decades—while you may now have a family, career and home of your own. This isn’t to lessen your loss, but to help put your surviving parent’s grief into perspective. Your surviving parent may now need you more than ever.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that may help you comfort your surviving parent.


Take care of yourself first.

If you’ve ever flown, then you’ve heard the flight attendant tell you to secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. The same logic applies here. If you aren’t doing well physically or emotionally in the wake of losing a parent, then you won’t be able to properly support your surviving parent’s needs.

Below we’re going to share ways to help support your surviving parent physically and emotionally. It’s important to also apply this advice to yourself, first. Taking care of yourself first will help give you the capacity to support your surviving parent.

Address your surviving parent’s physical needs.

Mourning the loss of a loved one can be physically exhausting. Simple things like eating, sleeping and being active can become a challenge. Here are a few ways you can help ensure your surviving parent’s physical needs are being met:

  • Ensure your parent is eating regular, nourishing meals.

    Oftentimes, friends and family will send meals immediately after the loss of a loved one, but these usually stop arriving in the weeks that follow the funeral. If you’re local to your surviving parent, you can help support him or her by grocery shopping and cooking. Cooking meals in batches that can be frozen and easily warmed up later may help your surviving parent cope after his or her loss. If you live far away from your surviving parent, look into grocery and meal delivery options. There are many services now available that can help ensure that your parent is receiving regular, nutritious meals.

  • Help your surviving parent exercise.

    This is easier to do if you live locally. Go on walks together around the neighborhood or at the park. Or, do another activity together that your surviving parent enjoys, such as swimming or biking. Doing these activities together will help you both

    If you don’t live near your surviving parent, you may ask a friend or neighbor to step in and help. You could also look into fitness classes and groups that are local to your surviving parent and are geared toward your surviving parent’s age and fitness level. Besides being a great way to help your parent get moving, it may also help him or her meet peers who have also experienced loss.

  • Encourage your surviving parent to visit the doctor.

    Grief can have physical consequences, including loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, muscle tension, headaches, fatigue and more. It may be important for your surviving parent’s doctor to know about the loss so your parent can get the help he or she needs.

Address your surviving parent’s emotional needs.

The grieving process can put your emotions in continual fluctuation, from one extreme to another. As your surviving parent grieves, he or she may experience disbelief, shock and anger all in the same day. They may feel overwhelmed and not know how to think or react.

Then, once the separation becomes clear, your surviving parent may feel depressed and lonely. Some days may bring feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and anger.

Your surviving parent will need support, and it will be important that they share their feelings with others. If you don’t feel like you can fully provide this support for your surviving parent, you may help him or her find a support group for people who have lost spouses. If your parent is part of a religious community, spiritual leaders may also be able to help.

Even after some time has passed, it’s important to know that emotions often resurface at holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. It will mean a lot to your surviving parent if you acknowledge and share these days and emotions.


Help your surviving parent take care of tasks.

In the midst of the grieving process, your surviving parent will also be facing a long to-do list. From planning a funeral to making contacts and notifying government agencies, there are many tasks your surviving parent will need to take care of. These tasks can feel particularly tedious when you’re also mourning.

You can help support your surviving parent through these tasks by offering yourself as a resource and assistant. Ask your parent how you can help. You can check out our blog post, 46 things to do after a loved ones passes away, for specific ways you may be able to help your surviving parent. You can also find more helpful information from our How to plan a funeral and End-of-life important documents checklist blog posts.


We’re here for you.

We hope this guide helps you in your time of need. If your surviving parent had a Bankers Life policy, we’re here to help answer any questions or concerns you may have about his or her policy. Reach out to his or her agent directly, or contact us here.