Watching your spouse suffer the loss of a parent will make you feel like an indignant spectator at a sporting event. One of the strangest but most fitting analogies comes from an ‘80s movie, the original Karate Kid. “Sweep the Leg” might be before your time but look up the video clip. It’s a scene where the hero battles a rival school of karate at a competition. The opposing karate school’s teacher coaches his student to attack the hero’s already injured leg without mercy.
What’s the “already injured leg” in your spouse’s life? His relationship with his parent. For example, maybe he was “besties” with his dad but for the last 3 years Alzheimer’s stole his father’s functions cruelly holiday by holiday. In another case, maybe he never received the affection his mom gave to his younger sister. In either circumstance, you will watch your champ experience such pain that you wish you could take it for him.
1. Listen to your spouse without interrupting. Don’t be the peacemaker during his time of grief. You read that correctly. Conflicts over the funeral logistics are completely normal. Sibling rivalry is also expected. Why? It’s how family works out the catalog of feelings that this death stirs up. The glorious upside? Many relationships are mended after the dust clears in this rumble.
2. Be prepared for emotional “whiplash”. Your hubster might be laughing uproariously with a cousin one moment and then crying until he needs his asthma inhaler the next. His emotions will change abruptly based on the flood of images triggered by memories of the past pleasant and unpleasant. Do not be by your grieving spouse’s side 24/7. At the same time, be prepared to show up as a faithful friend to your hubby at any hour. For example, at 2:47 A.M. he might feel most comforted by a trip with you to his dad’s favorite 24-hour diner for steak and eggs.
3. Practice self-care. Don’t skip your appointment with your personal trainer. Maintain your pedicure. Meditate per usual. The better you take care of your emotional, spiritual and physical well-being the stronger you’ll be as the most encouraging friend to your spouse.
4. Shrink your gifts. Think “mini”. Bringing small comforts and delight to your hubby. Think small not big. For example, creating a Magisto video with digital photos and home movies of him and his parent is not a bad idea but smaller gestures such as hot tubbing with him for 20 minutes can give him a mini-vacation from his sorrows. Why? Tiny surprises are more manageable to a grieving person than big, loud, displays of feelings at this time.
5. Allow growth. Your spouse will never be the same. He will create a new normal. Trust that this is a good thing. The death of a parent is a rite of passage. It hurts like a mothertrucker and it will transform an adult. He might try out new hobbies or even change his career. He is likely to make big lifestyle changes. Adapt and morph with him. Your marriage is one of the best friendships that will see you both through hard times.
Do you have any advice to add?