Or, how to be supportive without being super annoying?
December 3, 2012 10:56 PM   Subscribe

My husband is losing his father in a few weeks. He is currently spending some time with him at a hospice and is away from home to deal with chaotic family issues surrounding this. When he returns, I imagine he will need time to decompress and I want to make that easy. Please give me suggestions on how I can make that easier for him or what you've appreciated in a similar situation.
posted by dean winchester to Human Relations (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
So sorry for what you're all going through.

Make sure he's not dealing with daily things. I don't know if his dad has a partner, but if not, there's going to be a ton of little things to do. Answering machine messages, bills, newspaper, mail forwarding, plant watering, etc. Taking care of as many of these things as possible will be a huge help, as is creating a list of all the people who will need to be thanked for flowers, visits, and thoughtful things.

Also, if it's possible to have dinner ready for him, or make arrangements for him to eat and drink, take his mind off of things as much as possible with meals and a comfortable routine.

Have him start thinking about or writing the obituary now, while he's waiting at the hospice. When his dad is asleep and he's just standing by, it's as good a time as any to jot down some notes. Once the death actually happens, he's going to want to be productive even less than he does now, in the waiting phase.

If you haven't already made other decisions and preparations around the burial or cremation, now is a good time for that too. Order 12-15 death certificates when the time comes. It seems everyone needs one.

Lastly, just be there for random hugs and crying jags and love in huge doses. He won't be himself for awhile, and he won't always be able to ask for what he needs. Just be there, touch him, and let him feel whatever comes.

May every tomorrow be better.
posted by nadise at 11:44 PM on December 3, 2012 [11 favorites]

I couldn't have said it better. Until you've lost a parent it's hard to really get how it affects you, and I was different with my father's passing than my mother's. But for both, I found myself just not "there" for a while afterwards. My mom passed away two months ago and I don't know that I'm all here yet. I can be walking around, laughing, hanging out with friends... but then sometimes I'll sit on the couch without moving all day. And it's okay. Things are just processing. It takes time.

I wish I had someone taking care of the day to day stuff for me. My motivation isn't great. I can't even remember to move my car for street cleaning lately. I'm just kind of dingy, and I have accepted that there isn't much I can do about it. I have to wait it out.

After watching my mom slowly die, I drank a lot for the first month... in a way I never do. I just cut myself a lot of slack and allowed myself the bad habit temporarily because I felt like I couldn't fault myself for wanting the escape and to relax. At one point I made a martini after dinner and then never drank it. When I woke up the next morning and it was next to me, I thought "What the hell. I work at home. What am I going to do, fire me?" Then I drank a martini at 9am that I'd made the night before.

I'm telling you the martini story because I am NOT the kind of person to drink at 9am... but I realized after dealing with my dad's passing that you just kind of are along for the ride when it comes to mourning a parent.

So sometimes the experience might make him act in a way that seems foreign to you and not like him. It might be foreign to him too. And it's likely temporary. Try, if possible, to be understanding and please don't judge him. It'll take time for him to be himself... we are half our parents so when the die it affects us as whole beings in was we rarely foresee.

BTW, I was ver thankful that I had been in therapy for a few months before my mom died. It really helped to get me through it better than I'd expected. It was still hard, but it helped. If he's open to it, it might help him too.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:50 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Clean the entire house. Clean everything. The first place he'll go is the bathroom. It should be spotless. Hire a cleaner if you have to.

Join the library. Get books or DVDs that you enjoy watching together. Put DVDs on all the time.

Expect strange subjects to come up. Expect little retort.
posted by parmanparman at 2:20 AM on December 4, 2012

I lost my father about six weeks ago. Don't plan a lot of activities. Try to make as many ordinary day-to-day decisions as you can. Just bring asked what restaurant to go to is enough to send me on a crying jag. Getting through the funeral is not the hard part; getting on with life is the hard part. Make that as stress free as you can.
posted by tamitang at 3:52 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Different people handle this sort of thing differently. Some people can't focus...others prefer to have something mundane like dishes or laundry to do to take their mind off of things.

The keys for you are to take as much off his plate as he needs and to not stress about making things "perfect". There is no ideal mourning. It's painful and it sucks but it is not exacerbated if there's a streak on the bathroom mirror.
posted by inturnaround at 5:37 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Others have given good advice. I will add:

* Start a folder for FIL-related paperwork that comes in. Trying to find That One Letter is bad enough, but so much worse when you're grieving.

* Frozen meals that you can just heat up. They don't have to be special. The magic is that you can eat relatively quickly and not have to do prep or clean-up, which sap energy.

* Grabbable, no-prep foods available -- baskets with apples and oranges, granola bars on the shelf, jars of nuts.

* Lower your own need for your spouse to be emotionally available for you, at least for a while. Make sure your support networks are in place, and then *use them.*

* Clear out some space in your garage/attic/storage area in case boxes of stuff suddenly appear.

* Do or help with the odd jobs that may feel overwhelming to him, like addressing thank you for the flowers cards, etc.

Be the logistics support person so that your husband can conserve his energy for just getting through this time and doing what has to be done.

I am so sorry. May your FIL go gently. Good on you for asking this, and for committing to help your husband through a difficult time.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:23 AM on December 4, 2012

We went through this last year with his mother, and we're going through a phase of this now. It helps to have things organized and clean and clear for appointments and the must-dos and the days you don't want to even move. But what is the one thing that always gets your husband through? Is it a food, a drink, a sport, reading...

As always, what my husband loves most is a clean, comfortable bed to get into every night. Good foods, a clean house and a wife and kid who aren't squabbling are high on his comfort level too - but mostly he loves bedtime. So I'd suggest you make a concerted effort to support whatever he already soothes himself with.
posted by peagood at 7:10 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

See this WebMD article on the different ways men deal with this grief. When we lost Dad, I found myself keeping busy by making the arrangements, looking after Mom, and taking care of things around their house. If you could take care of additional responsibilities on you and your husband's side of the equation (meals, bills, household chores), that would probably help your husband out. Just ask him what else you can do, he'll probably tell you.

Also, please see this article on things to say and not to say to people suffering a loss.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:53 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The above advice is excellent, but don't forget that the hospice is there for you, too, even if you are not physically there. Give them a call, and ask to speak to a social worker or case manager because your father-in-law is an inpatient and you could use some help getting things on track. Explain that your husband is visiting but you are not. They may have a staff person who has already worked with him that may be able to help you find your place in all this with minimal hand-wringing.

The thing about hospice is that it is not strictly speaking a place, it is a type of care that anyone who has a relationship with the dying can use. The hospice staff are there for you!
posted by juniperesque at 8:00 AM on December 4, 2012

You know your husband and his emotional needs better than any of us, but I can offer that the people who helped me most after my father died were the people who just took care of stuff and didn't keep asking for input/asking how I was feeling. Like someone said above, I didn't want to pick a restaurant--please just tell me where to go or bring me the food.

But just kinda follow his lead and you'll do fine. If he starts doing dishes or something, don't insist he stop...maybe he needs something mindless to do with his hands. Etc.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:16 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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