No matter how old you are, the loss of a parent can be a devastating blow. Being the spouse of a man who is experiencing a significant amount of grief after the death of his mother can be especially challenging. The process of grief has no predictable duration and some stages can lead to your husband detaching emotionally. You can't bring back his mother but you can help your husband process his grief and begin to incorporate his mother's memory into your mutual future.
Even if you were close to your mother-in-law, you can't completely understand what your husband is thinking or feeling. Implementing the skills of Active Listening can facilitate your husband's comfort with expressing his feelings. Active Listening is a technique often used in therapy and counseling and is focused on listening to your husband intently. Without forcing him to share, when he does, paraphrase, clarify and avoid attempting to interject your own feelings or suggestions. Active Listening is a surprisingly effective technique to use when engaging conversation and focusing on the speaker. Expressing feelings is one of several important ways your husband will process his grief, explains psychologist Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker of "Ask The Therapist."
Encouraging and joining your husband in activities that can ease his grief can also help decrease the opportunities for his self-imposed isolation. While time alone can help him be contemplative, Dr. Edward T. Creagan of MayoClinic.com explains that it isn't healthy if it continues indefinitely. Approaches to easing your husband's grief can include remembering the good times spent with his mother. Acknowledge your husband's deeply felt pain and if he cries, allow him to do so without judgment. Place large-scale decisions on hold temporarily while your husband grieves, since it is difficult to think clearly when a person is grieving.
Grief typically causes symptoms such as depression, anxiety and guilt, explains the University of Texas in "Grief and Loss." Grief that has a particularly deep effect can impair the process that gradually alleviates these reactions. If your husband is experiencing significant incapacitation that causes you to be concerned, suggesting professional help may be necessary. Mental health professionals such as counselors and therapists or grief support groups can give your husband an objective outlet for expressing his grief. Keep in mind that you too, are likely experiencing and processing your own version of grief and may also benefit from individual or couples support or grief counseling.
Create a Different Life Together
The days, weeks and years following the death of your husband's mother will continue to be difficult, and different. Suddenly, explains psychotherapist Alexandra Kennedy, family patterns and traditions are very different and the anniversary of your mother-in-law's death will be embedded in your lives. Work with your husband, your family and his family to create new patterns of interaction. For example, calling your father-in-law on a weekly basis as a couple can help his grieving process while also encouraging he and your husband to speak more frequently. At each milestone such as a holiday or your mother-in-law's birthday, create a way to celebrate her life and her memory.
- PsychCentral: Ask The Therapist; Marie Hartwell-Walker, M.D.
- University of Texas at Austin: Grief and Loss
- Taft College: Active Listening Skills
- Harvard Medical School: 11 Ways to Comfort Someone Who's Grieving
- MayoClinic.com: Dealing With Grief: Confronting Painful Emotions; Edward T. Creagan, M.D.
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images