How to help a grandparent continue after loss
June 4, 2015 6:39 AM   Subscribe

My grandfather just lost my grandmother, his wife of 68 years. As he is 88 years old himself, I would like some help to do what I can to help him deal with what is now a very quiet and empty house. More within.

Grandpa's passions were photography and carpentry. He is a retired newspaper photographer who also spent his life taking pictures of family. He is also an incredibly skilled handyman who built a camp/cabin by the lake from the ground up using nothing but hand tools over 60 years ago. He's also taken apart and rebuilt every single room in their house, multiple times.

He's not technologically savvy; I think playing Solitaire on his Windows 95 machine is about as advanced as he gets. Nor is he any sort of a cook; Grandpa basically cooked every meal for the last 68 years. We're planning on getting Meals on Wheels so that he doesn't fall into a college freshman diet. At his current age, I think his hobbies were mainly watching TV with Grandma, reading the paper with Grandma, eating with Grandma, and seeing their great-grandchildren with Grandma. So you see why I'm nervous about him.

Most of our family lives very close to him, so I'm sure we'll be stopping over often, but I'm about an hour away, so that's not something I can do as much. I'm hoping to find something that he can enjoy when he's alone so that the silence might be a little less deafening.

Any suggestions would be most welcome. Thank you.
posted by JimBJ9 to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry for your loss. We went through this last year, and my only advice is to try to accept his wishes. In our case, my 92-year-old grandfather simply did not want to live without his late wife. He passed away quietly three weeks after her funeral.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:42 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Could it be time for him to move into assisted living or a retirement community? They have activities to keep people social. I'm sure my grandfathers lived much longer after my grandmothers' deaths than they would have if they'd been on their own.

If he stays at home, can he handle taking care of a dog or cat? They are great company.
posted by desjardins at 6:55 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

meant to add - if he gets a dog or cat, either get an older one or have a long-term plan since the pet will likely outlive him.
posted by desjardins at 6:56 AM on June 4, 2015

I don't think he would want to move out of his home. That's where his parents lived and died, where his kids grew up, and where he spent 68 years with his gal. As for his summer camp, not a chance. He built it with his own hands and I think he'd prefer to die there. He's actually still pretty physically sound. Mom taught him how to go grocery shopping earlier this year. He can take a staircase with no problem, considering his age. There is enough family around that he doesn't need to drive, shovel/blow snow, or mow.

They used to have a kitty, but she died 5 or 6 years ago. I think they now feel they should have gotten another one back then, but are too old now since, yes, the cat would probably outlive them.
posted by JimBJ9 at 7:09 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

If he did like animals he could always foster, my mother got a dog after my father passed away and having to get up every day to feed & walk the dog was sometimes the only thing that got her out of bed that first year. It would be company & he'd have something constructive to do.

Meals on Wheels is a good idea, a big part of what they do to help is actually the regular visits, knowing someone is coming around having that interaction with other people daily really helps. I am assuming you call on a regular basis, but if not calling him a couple of times a week would probably help a lot. Let him lead the conversation, let him reminisce about your Grandmother if he wants.

My mother goes to a regular card game at what is basically a club for retirees, she's in Australia I'm not sure if they have them in the US but that might be something he'd like if they do.

Does he still do repairs and DIY stuff, do you have any small things you need fixing. Turning up semi regularly with a lamp that doesn't work say or something that needs fixing within his skill set, will engage his mind & make him feel like he's still useful and something the whole family could do. Making toys for Christmas toy drives maybe, if he's up for it.
posted by wwax at 7:24 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a former photographer, those family photos could be identified and organized, I think that would be a great project, especially with visitors. He gets to hang with a visitor, tell his stories, reminisce, stuff gets organized... we do this with our mom (90) a little at a time, she writes who it was and the year/location, ends up telling a story about it... it's kind of a brain exercise, too.
posted by WesterbergHigh at 7:45 AM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't just call him, write him letters or send cards. Getting mail is huge for a lot of older folks, and a hand-written note can just be a huge highlight. Maybe you guys could read the same book and talk about it as you go?

How about plants? Something productive, tomatoes or peppers or something easily grown in containers?

And I'd encourage the closer family to make a schedule so that you're spacing out the visits, but he's still seeing someone every day, every other day or so. You don't want everyone showing up on one day and the rest of the week to be lonely. Does he go to church? Would he be interested? A small church that would welcome him and kind of enfold him could be a great addition to his life. I am a Nazarene, and we have a congregation that skews to his age range; our pastor spends a good amount of time visiting the members too, and that could be a nice addition to your grandpa's life.
posted by lemniskate at 7:46 AM on June 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

He's not technologically savvy; I think playing Solitaire on his Windows 95 machine is about as advanced as he gets.

I just said it yesterday in another thread and I was talking about it at the Chicago meetup last night...get him a tablet and get him on Facebook. My grandma took to a tablet so well I couldn't believe it, especially since we've always made sure she had a computer in her home and showed her how to do things on it so many times. The tablet makes sense in a way that mouse and keyboard input never did. I think your grandpa will be able to figure it out. My grandma is on Angry Birds leaderboards, has little bible devotional apps, gets to do her solitaire and word searches on a tablet from the comfort of her cozy chair, and is connected to the whole world through facebook and text. It has made a huge improvement in her quality of life and I know helps her feel less lonely.

One thing I talk about with my grandma a lot is how she wishes she had gotten a dog when she was younger ("younger" meaning like in her 80s). My grandpa died over 20 years ago, so that's a lot of time she's spent living alone. All of us grandkids have dogs now and I know she wishes she had a dog to keep her company. Unfortunately, the last viable time for that would have been about 5 years ago, when she was a little more mobile, and the dog and her would have eased together by now. But a new dog at this point wouldn't really be possible. (p.s. Small dogs can be litter box trained, which is great when going out for multiple daily walks is a physical hardship.)

So that's what I think you should do. Get your grandpa a tablet, get him a facebook account, and get him an (adult) animal companion.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by phunniemee at 7:47 AM on June 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

If he would like a temporary cat, he could either adopt an elderly cat -- there are lots of them -- or consider fostering.
posted by jeather at 7:52 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try him out on a tablet before you get him one. We got my dad a Kindle Fire (at his request) when he was in his mid-80s. It was okay, except that between his age and having spent years of working with his hands on various DIY projects getting callouses, his fingers weren't really conductive enough for the touchscreen anymore. He got frustrated having to tap things multiple times in multiple ways to make it work, and at one point I wound up telling him to just use his knuckle. Which worked, but he also has arthritis and it's harder to aim a knuckle...

He still loved the Fire until he declined mentally to the pont it made no sense to him, but it was always an at least a bit of an exercise in frustration to get to his books.

If your grandfather worked with his hands a lot, he may have the same problem.
posted by current resident at 8:34 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Set up a project with him. If he's like my grandparents, he mostly wants to see his family. I love the photography project idea - so many pictures are left unlabeled, and wouldn't it be awesome to know who all those people are?

This could also be a great time to do an oral history project. Get some basic recording equipment, go over there on a regular basis (a few times a month?) and just get him to tell stories about his life. There are all sorts of guides online. Just be sure to let it go slowly - people get tired talking for too long.

And, yeah, iPad. My 85-year-old grandmother took to hers like a duck to water. She loves that she can keep hundreds of pictures of her great-grandbabies there and take them to show all her friends. She's also on Facebook, and plays endless games of online blackjack and Words with Friends with my uncle. It's been great for her.
posted by linettasky at 8:38 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's grieving, and that's what he needs to be doing. Meals on Wheels is a good idea. Go visit him. Grandpa, I'm so worried about you. I know you're grieving, but Grandma was such a big part of your life that I worry about how you will have company, get out of the house, not be horribly lonely, without her. When you're ready, what do you suppose you might want to do? Have some ideas ready. Lots of old guys go to McDonalds in the morning,drink coffee, read the paper, visit. There may be church activities, volunteering to teach/assist at an adult ed. carpentry class, and, yes, he can learn to use facebook, netflix, skype, etc., on a tablet. Try to develop a loose schedule, so that someone visits every other day.

Ask him to talk about the family, his youth, how to do stuff. He has an amazing repository in is head. get as much on tape/ video as you can.
posted by theora55 at 9:28 AM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

A bird feeder that you can see from inside the house!
posted by metahawk at 2:32 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

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