Q: My stepdad recently died of COVID. At the time that happened, my 70-year-old previously widowed mom was in the hospital. She found out about my stepdad’s death after she was discharged. They had been married for 25 years. How can I help her in her grief when I can’t even visit her?
A: We are very sorry for your loss and sympathize with you and your mom. The loss of a loved one is painful, but you and your mom can be grateful to have each other and the blessed hope. A key message to you and your mom is that neither of you is forgotten, nor is your stepdad!
Before sharing some ideas, we refer you to potential resources. Adventist hospitals usually have bereavement programs, grief-recovery groups, and professional counseling for complicated grieving if that is needed for either of you. If depression, anxiety, or self-harming ideation or gestures develop, please seek professional help immediately. Such situations can occur mid- to long-term in the loneliness after the initial condolences expressed by loved ones. Your local church pastor and elders, as well as personal, health, and women’s ministries teams and other members of your church family, should not be overlooked to help provide a supportive “presence,” even virtually. Church- and community-based support groups can be very helpful, and your local conference or union may sponsor or resource such groups.
Having reliable communication is essential. Since you cannot be physically close, be near to your mom emotionally by digital means, by telephone, and even by cards and letters. It helps to be emotionally close, but don’t become suffocating; give her and yourself some space to breathe. Share your favorite memories and the things “Dad would say” from time to time. Where possible, help your mom with practical needs, especially the details that Dad would have taken care of. Listen to stories about him and reminisce. You can be spiritually close through prayer and by sharing promises in God’s Word as you look forward to seeing him again in the resurrection. A word spoken in season is like apples of gold in settings of silver (see Prov. 25:11).
Grieving is an intimate, personal experience that each person undergoes differently. Grief is sometimes experienced in waves that come crashing in without warning. Being “there” for your mom, anticipating her practical needs and attending to them before she asks, shows her that she has not been abandoned.
Engage her in helping and caring for someone else or an appropriate pet that depends on her. One of the greatest conduits for successful grieving is personal engagement in helping and caring for others.
Encourage her to make a gratitude list every night; you do the same, and prayerfully review the lists together. Help to keep each other hopeful and moving forward, finding ways to incorporate the loss into the “new normal” of your lives. God is a present help; stay connected to Him. He promises not to leave or forsake either of you. What He says, He will do!
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.