The loss of an elderly parent is a complex sort of grief that can affect you in unexpected ways and also have a huge impact on your relationship with your partner. If you and your partner have been together for a long time, they might have been close to your parent as well and the loss is also deeply felt by them. Now two people are grieving the same loss in different ways.
We know that the odds are good that we will outlive our parents, and if we’re blessed to have them with us into their senior years, we have time to mentally prepare for that inevitable day. It honestly doesn’t matter how mentally prepared you think you are, the grief surrounding the loss of an elderly parent is something you’re never truly ready to face. Your emotional response is probably going to surprise you. It can be sudden and sharp, or ebb and flow. Every person’s experience is unique. There’s no blueprint for how we are going to react or how long we will be grieving for our lost parent. You cannot put a timetable on your experience or that of your partner. They may be grieving just as hard and long as you are over the loss of your parent.
This is a situation where you both are going to have to be extra kind and sensitive to each other. Your life may look and feel different from one day to the next. One day your partner may be holding you up, and the next day (or minute) you’re going to need to hold them up. Do your best to be sensitive to how each other is feeling and be ready to have that change in a fluid and dynamic way at least for a while.
If you have the time beforehand, talk to each other and to your elderly parent. Make sure you know their wishes for end of life care and how they want to be memorialized. Assign to your partner, and siblings, if any, the duties that need to be managed when someone passes away. If you’re not emotionally capable to handle things when your parent dies, it’s a huge relief to have these arrangements made and written down so that your partner, your in-laws and close friends can assist you.
Grief never ends, it just changes over time. We learn to live without the presence of our mother or father, but the memories stay. It’s also true that if you had a complicated relationship with your parent, grief can be complicated too. Make sure that your partner knows what happened in your past so they are not blindsided by your complicated grief. There are counselors that specialize in this type of therapy, and if you’re having difficult emotions or extremes that become hard to manage you might need to seek help from a grief counselor. There’s no shame in doing this and it may be of great help to you. Your partner may want to attend counseling as well and it may be beneficial to do this.
I read a quote once that said “grief is just great love with no place to go”. Grieving the loss of a parent is one of those universal experiences that happens to most of us in the human experience and at the same time is unique to the individual experiencing the loss. You and your partner know each other so well. Your partner is the one person you can turn to who knows and loves you well enough to help you through this difficult process.