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Helping Mom Move on after Dad’s Death

By Carol Bradley Bursack – 

DEAR CAROL: Dad was sick for a long time before he died three months ago. Now, without Dad around, my sisters and I notice how much Mom has aged. We’d like Mom to move from her house into assisted living, because caring for the house is too much for her and she just stares at the TV all day. She says she’s not ready to move. How can we help her make the change? – Shawn

DEAR SHAWN: Long-term marriages often evolve into an efficient support system so it’s not unusual that your Mom’s aging was less apparent while your dad was alive. Likely, her grief over your dad’s death has taken a toll, as well. You may want to make an appointment with her doctor to rule out clinical depression or other issues just to be certain she’s okay.

I understand that you feel that your mom should sell the house and move, but try to be patient. This was her home with your dad. She may need several more months just to get enough of a grip on her life to think about moving. Unless her living alone is dangerous, don’t push too hard for a change.

Communicate with your sisters and see if there’s a way that you can split up time so someone can be with your mom often. Don’t force changes, but suggest one small step at a time. Maybe she will be able to slowly part with unneeded things around the house if one of you is there to help.

Do encourage her to have her legal papers updated as soon as possible. If your mother had your dad as her Power Of Attorney, she should now name one of you to take care of her financial and health interests if she cannot. If you bring this up gently, she may actually be relieved. If she says she can’t handle thinking about this now, set a date to discuss it again in a short while. Remind her that she wouldn’t have wanted strangers to make decisions about your dad’s health and she wouldn’t want that for herself. She needs to make sure someone who loves her can step in if needed.

Time is your friend. Pushing too hard for changes may emotionally paralyze her. Let her grieve. Occasionally test the waters with some suggestions. Perhaps, in a few months, you can take her to explore assisted living facilities so she sees people her age having a good time. If any of her friends live in a good retirement or assisted living center, recruit that friend to help with the transition.

Moving is a huge step for anyone. It’s even harder for someone who has suffered a life-changing event such as the death of a spouse. Compassion and patience will help you all get through this.

Find other articles by Carol in our Caregiving library.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at Minding Our Elders and a blog at

The Essence of Compassion

By Julie Hall

One of the most beautiful and important attributes a person can have is compassion. Sadly, we don’t see as much of it these days as we did back in our parents’ or grandparents’ lifetime. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel that compassion is desperately needed, both to be given as well as received every day. Let this serve as a reminder to all who read this how very blessed we are. We should spread those blessings wherever and however we can.

When dealing with our family members, especially through difficult times – times of change, times of illness and death, times of uncertainty – we should hold these words close to heart.

I don’t know who wrote this, but I have used it for many years and want to pass it along to you.

The Essence of Compassion

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong…
Because sometime in your life, you will have been all of these…

The Power of Presence

Finding Strength and Community Being Present with Loved Ones

By Rabbi Richard F. Address

I remember being an undergraduate student at university and having a class on religion taught by two very famous theologians. I knew I desired to become a rabbi and was eagerly soaking up the class, and the wisdom, of these two scholars.

One class was devoted to theological issues surrounding the end of life. Discussions naturally evolved to helping families with close to death crises. I recall the question that helped shape the year. Someone asked what to say or what are the best words to use to give comfort in times of great loss and grief. The professor just looked back at the student asking the question and smiled…

Waiting a second or two, he just leaned forward and said, “Sometimes the best thing is to say nothing, sometimes, the best thing for you to do is just to be there.”

There are moments in all of our lives when we are confronted with unspeakable loss. We rush to someone’s side, and we wish to do “something”, say “something.” Something that will comfort more often equally for us as for the people experiencing the grief. Yet, more often than not, as that professor said, the most powerful thing you can do is just to “be there.”

There is something healing in presence, something strong in community. The Jewish mourning ritual of Shiva (the seven day period of mourning that follows a funeral) is just such a rite. It allows a mourner to do “grief work” surrounded by family, friends and community. It makes the struggle to understand loss easier to bear, in a way, when supported by community.

Sadly, the last year, I have had the experience to see the power of community more times than I wished. Too many times I have had to be part of a community that was forced to deal with a sudden death. Each time, I was taken by the power of presence. I know the mourners had no idea of the sheer numbers of people who came to the funeral or to the Shiva. And that really does not matter. Equally meaningful to those in mourning is the power of the community for those who attend. Nothing shakes us more than the harsh reality of a sudden death, no matter at what age the death happens.

The unexpected loss triggers our own fears of our mortality and we naturally wish not to be alone. So presence cuts both ways; support for those in need and a real sense of psycho-spiritual healing for those who support. It is the power of presence, of your touch, of your hug, most often remembered more than the words. It is in the strength of community that relationships take root and support grows those who are fallen. The strength that allows them to rise again.


Making the Elderly feel At Home for the Holidays

Simple steps to help the seniors in your family experience more holiday cheer this season

By Dr. Marion

During the holidays, many families are full of excitement and expectations. But for some elderly family members, the holidays can be a time of sadness. Memories of loved ones no longer with us or past holidays when they were perhaps at a more enjoyable place in their lives can take the joy out of the season.

While younger people are busy running around getting gifts, making food, and putting up the decorations, the elders in your family may feel left out. Do all you can to make them feel like they are a vital part of the holidays. Meet their needs and the entire family will have a more enjoyable holiday.

How can you meet their needs? It is easy if you make a few special considerations. Don’t just plop them down in front of the television or at the dinner table. Involve them in as much of the preparation as possible. This can include wrapping presents, or helping to cook the family meal, by chopping nuts or beating eggs. Be sure you have the correct foods prepared if they have any specific dietary or medical needs.

You could also make your elder the guest of honor who lights the candles or recites a special prayer, if such traditions occur in your family. You can also break out the songbooks and have the elders join you in singing holiday songs. Whatever you plan, it has to be something that makes your elder feel present and in the middle of things in a genuine way.

Consider these additional ideas that should make your elders feel present in the excitement and love of the holidays:

  1. Make sure different family members are available to sit with your elders for one-on-one conversations and companionship.
  2. Create a comfortable environment for them to take a nap, if needed.
  3. Be ready to help them to the bathroom, if necessary. Take away the embarrassment. Make sure someone stays with them to help orient them to the various rooms of the home.
  4. Manage their clothing, too. Keep a sweater handy in case they get cold. If they have to wear a bib while eating, make sure it’s a stylish, functional one.
  5. Pull out old family photos that include good times when your elders were younger. It can be fun for them to remember a fishing trip, a birthday party, holidays past, or other family events. It reminds them that they have made a powerful contribution to the family. Give them time to tell any stories, even if you’ve heard them before.

Another important point to remember:  Being removed from their family could send your elders into a real funk. It is important that you call or visit them soon after the holidays to let them know you’re still thinking of them. Talk about the recent holiday and bring along any pictures that were taken. It helps them enjoy the event a second time.

If you are sending pictures, write the names, dates, occasion, and relationships on the back of the photos to help jog their memory and make it easier for them to show their friends.

A Kiss is Still a Kiss

The “secret” to a long and happy marriage

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

Yes, I know that Valentine’s Day has come and gone and the flowers and candy have all been eaten or tossed. All the more reason to relate this story, as it keeps the flame of life and love alive, albeit in a sad embrace.

Last week, I had the honor of officiating at the funeral of a coworker’s mom. She was in her late 80s, and her health had deteriorated in very recent months. As many clergy do, I went to visit the family the day before the ceremony to gather impressions and information that I would use to craft the eulogy. In most cases, this time with the family is a combination of laughter and tears defined by their stories and recollections. You learn a lot by just listening and observing (trade secret!). Then again, every once in a while, you come across a family and a story that stands out, reminding you of what really is important in life.

I sat at the dining room table of this family, surrounded by my friend, the daughter, her brother, grandchildren, and, of course, the husband. We talked, and they quickly volunteered that this man and woman had been married for 64 years. So, of course, I had to ask the husband the secret to this marriage.

Was it the development of varied interests or shared exploits or business? No, he just looked at me and said simply, “The secret was that we were very much in love.” He then detailed the story of when he and his wife had met (he was 18, she was 16) and how they learned that the concept of compromise was the glue that held their love together.

The family next chimed in with stories of how these two people, simply and without fanfare, modeled what it was like to be with another human being for over six decades and remain passionate and “in” love. So much was made of this that one of the grandchildren related a story that took place just a week before his grandmother’s death. The husband visited his wife in the nursing home and, when it was time to say goodnight, leaned over and gave her a kiss, to which the wife declared to the nurse in the room: “See, he still knows how to make love.”

I mention this story because, in today’s world, when romance is commercialized and love commodified, here is a story of two people who understood that the greatest gift that a relationship can have is the simple, but utterly complicated gift of love.

The more I learned about this couple, the more it became obvious that it was the simple things that kept their marriage flourishing to the end. Mutual respect born from a love that was allowed to grow and mature was their simple recipe for a life well lived. A life, as this husband said, in which he had “no regrets.”

These were modest people. No fame or great, world-shaking accomplishments. Just two people who dedicated their lives to each other, built a business, raised a family, and tried to enjoy the gift of life as much as possible. The kind of people who cement a country and a community while living a life of love and respect, so that even in death, the surviving spouse could look his family in the eye and, with tears, smile in the warm embrace of a love that, he knows, can never die.

The lesson? Simple. In this complicated, information-laden world, it is still love that binds people and families together and creates the memories that carry us into our future.