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Helping Mom After Dad's Death

QUESTION: I'm wondering if you have any advice/suggestions for me. My Father passed away this past Jan. and we brought my Mother back to live in our home town. (They moved to the Rockies 12 yrs ago, but lived in our town prior to that). Her decision was always known that she would move here, to be closer to the children and grandchildren if my Father should pass on first.

I have 2 brothers, one far away but tries to do what ever he can from his distance, the other is on the other side of the city who never goes to visit Mom or tries to help her out.

My Mom and I have become very close since Dad's passing, which we were not always. I try to do what ever I can to help her, but not making her dependent on me, although she is very dependent on my emotional support. The problem is, she has lost so much weight, and looks unhealthy. She has fibromyalgia and a number of other health issues. She does live in an apartment by herself, and fights depression. I don't know what to do for her. She doesn't eat, and she does smoke. (which she shouldn't due to her poor health). I don't feel like she's given up, but I'm not sure how to get her to eat. I talk to her all the time about it, but she says she doesn't feel well when she eats, and gets full very quickly. I have become sneaky, and will go over there and invite myself to eat there, and make something for all of us. It works but I can't do that all the time. My brother won't do anything. "You can lead a horse to water....." that's all he says. Do you have any advice?

Also how do I handle Christmas? How can I make it easier for her. I'm trying to keep her from going into depression. And lastly what can I do on the anniversary of Dad's death. (Dad also died on my Mom's Birthday) Double Pain. How do we celebrate Mom's birth and mourn Dad's death the same day? I'm sorry this is so long. I guess I'm wearing out. My husband is extremely supportive, but I need someone else's help.

ANSWER: It is high time for a "family meeting" concerning your mother's health. And what better time than the holidays for establishing communication and identifying a plan to assist your mother through this very trying period of her life.

Your mother needs a full physical by a qualified medical internist to determine whether her eating difficulty is depression or some physical problem. An antidepressant medication and attendance at a support group for those who have lost spouses may also be in order. Check your community mental health agency for psychosocial support programs. She may also qualify for Medicare nurse visits, if there is some physical problem or household help if she is unable to help herself. Check with your county for services for the elderly. And senior citizen programs that can help connect your mother into her new community.

There are many jobs to be done, here, but do not do them by yourself! Your brothers need to be involved with your mother's care, if only to shoulder the responsibility for making the decisions that will be necessary to improve her present condition. Call each of your bothers and let them know that your mother's condition is deteriorating and that the three of you need to meet to discuss her care and plan for her future. Include her in the discussion, if doing so is not overly stressful to her.

In time, depending on the results of her physical examination, she may be a good candidate for a retirement center where she can meet with other women and men who are in a similar stage in life. Depression can be abated by becoming involved in the community social activities of a good retirement residence. Visit local residences with your brothers, if this comes to pass, and select one (with your mother's involvement) in what fits her particular needs.

Because there is so much "stigma" attached to growing older in this country, it is often the case that adult children of the elderly avoid research on these issues, only to be forced into limited choices under duress of a medical crisis. Do not let this happen to your family! Let your brothers know that this situation is not going to just "disappear". Take a proactive approach to identifying the problem and finding solutions. It is OK for you to be the "leader" in organizing, and even "assigning" responsibilities (for research) if necessary. But do not accept the total emotional responsibility alone. Avoid "wearing yourself out". Instead request help from your siblings.

Because you are the only girl in the family, you may find that you are automatically "elected" by your family to take all responsibility for your mother's physical and emotional caretaking. But this is not your job to do by yourself! Accepting this role may end up taking a toll on your own physical and mental health.

Ask your brothers for suggestions and plans regarding assisting your mother in grieving your father's death and celebrating her birthday. Perhaps it is time for the family to have a reunion, celebrating her. In this context friends, relatives and family can share in remembering your father as a part of your mother's life, too. You might surprise her with a dinner in her honor at a nearby establishment. Many families have a tradition of celebrating an elder's 75th or 80th birthday. But whatever your mother's age, it is time for her to know that people appreciate and care for her. Ask one of your brothers to toast to your father's memory, their marriage and his life. Bring pictures of Mom and Dad together. Bring pictures of Mom in her childhood, her youth. In general validate her life! There will be tears and sorrow, as well as joy and laughter at the memories and stories that can be told about Mom, about Dad and all of the people that have been connected to her in her lifetime.

The kind of life passage your mother is going through is enormous. Neither she (nor you!) should be handling it alone. That is what families are for! Family rituals hold the grief that one person cannot and should not endure privately. Use the holiday spirit to gather your family together on your mother's behalf. It is time that all "goodwill" be turned to the woman who gave birth to all three of you children. And doing so may end up being the greatest Christmas gift you ever gave yourselves!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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