The loss of a parent is a traumatic event that can have a short-term as well as a life-long impact on an adult child’s emotional and physical well-being, particularly when it's your mother, the parent with whom you've typically had the most nurturing relationship. Still, the grief (the initial reaction to death) and mourning (the period of adjusting to the death) process is a unique one, with different twists and turns along the way. Your friend with definitely need to have the support of other family members and friends like you.
As soon as you learn of the death of your friend’s mother, reach out to your friend. Let her know that you are there to help in whatever way you are able. Don’t assume that you know what your friend needs. Remember grief is a unique process. Be sure to ask your friend if she would find a particular activity or gesture helpful, and allow her generally to take the lead in identifying her needs.
Stay in touch with your friend after the grief process ends. After the initial shock, your friend will need a lot of support to adjust to life without his mother. Supporters tend to go back to their regular routines after the funeral services are held, not appreciating that this is the time that the loss really begins to sink in. This period of bereavement may last up to one to two years, notes the American Psychiatric Association.
Pay attention to any long-term difficulties your friend may be having. While the bereavement process can take years, after a few months she should be less sad, able to work, and have enjoyed some pleasurable activities. If it seems that your friend is becoming more sad, having more difficulty with work, feels hopeless, and/or expresses suicidal thoughts, you should suggest that she seek support from a mental health professional. The clinician can evaluate her to determine if she is experiencing a major depression at that point and can advise her as to her best course of action.
- Death of a Parent: Transition to a New Adult Identity; Debra Umberson, Ph.D.
- Helpguide: Supporting a Grieving Person
Sonya Lott, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, who offers online and in office counseling to individuals struggling with grief, loss or a life transition. She also facilitates mental health workshops for educational, professional, and community groups and maintains a blog on her website www.drsonyalott.com.