Agony Aunt: How can we help mum to move on with her life?

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Q: My Mum lost her husband to cancer last year and is struggling to get over the grief. She refuses to get any help - medical or counselling - yet is very low and talks about there being no point to her life, despite the fact she has children and grandchildren. His last wish was to die at home, which was granted with support by the family and now she is saying the house has too many bad memories. How can I get her to see the positive side she has made to his life and to get on with her own?

A: It is devastating to lose a partner for whatever reason, but I know that cancer is really gruelling. There are many emotions surrounding bereavement, from aching loss and resentment to extreme anger, even with the person who died and with the universe for allowing it to happen, then guilt for feeling that way. All of this is acceptable and very typical. She is very much entitled to grieve how she wants to as people behave in different ways. Some can move on quickly and others can be devastated for life. It sounds like your mum has become depressed. Not every day has to be sunshine but if she has lost interest in life around her then it would be advisable to book an appointment with her GP. They will offer counselling initially alongside medication. It really does help to talk to someone unconnected from the family, who has specialist bereavement training. It is not “being weak”. The older generation were not encouraged to express their emotions but it is still vital to persuade her to talk. It may be that a change of accommodation would be helpful if it really is too painful for her to remain at their shared house. Its amazing how our surroundings impact on our mental health. How about celebrating her late partner’s life to enable her to obtain closure? Either a memorial party where their friends and relatives could be asked to write their favourite memories of him and you could make it into a scrapbook. Or you could help her to hold a fund-raising event for the hospital that nursed him or a charity that was close to both of their hearts. Alternatively any money raised could go to a bench or plaque near where they spent time on a favourite walk or on a rose bush/tree in the new garden. Maybe her grandchildren could be encouraged to send your mum a letter telling her how much they miss her and what they are doing when they are not with her and what she means to them. Although she may resist help press on to get her the help that she needs to resurface and to know how much she is loved. You could even give her this article to show how worried you are.

Augony Aunt, Andrea Moon