How to support my mother after her sister's death?
August 24, 2008 8:31 AM   Subscribe

What kinds of things can/should I do for my Mother, upon the death of her sister (my Aunt), in order to make her more at ease, both now, and over the ensuing months/years?

My Aunt has just passed away, and I am packing now to make the 15 hour flight home tomorrow to support my Mom. With my Father gone, both her parents gone (and with me [an only child] living out of the country), the passing of her sister leaves her more alone than ever. She has friends, and family on my Father's side, but that's not quite the same, I would venture.
I am, and have pretty much always been, very close to my Mom, even though we live far apart, so I can and will ask her directly what she'd like from me, both while I'm home (for a week), and after (we talk regularly -- usually once a week -- by phone or Skype). But I guess what I'm asking here is, what can you tell me about the (kinds of) things that I can do that maybe she doesn't even know (yet) herself that she'd like, or that might put her at ease, etc? Tell me about your experiences in this regard.
I don't think I'm thinking straight, or writing very clearly, and I won't be able to look at any answers until I get back home, probably 24 hours from now, but I want to support her the best I can, and I'm not sure what to do beyond just being there and doing whatever comes up that needs doing. <-- that will be "enough" but I'd like to do more than just "enough."
Just to try to be a little more specific, I'd like to hear about tangible things like "make sure you have a pen when you go to the funeral home," but also intangible, such as ... well, that's why I'm asking...

In case it might be relevant, she's in her 60's.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
posted by segatakai to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did your aunt have family or close friends? A bridge/bingo/coffee/gambling clique? Offer to be the bearer of the sad news to them. Offer to help with cleaning out the house.

If your Mom and Aunt were very close, it's hard to know what your Mom might need. Most helpful might be to just be a good listener and sounding board. Everyone deals with death differently, but (in my experience) people almost universally act weird. Prepare for that and let those things go. Don't try to "fix" problems until they arise- a lot of people seem to obsess about weird problems that someone's death cause. "Oh God, her car needs an oil change, what am I going to do?? And her gas bill is due!" My answer would be "ok, we can take care of that later." Because chances are, that's not really relevant at the moment.

Write everything down, don't depend on your or your Mom's memory.

Call more often in the following months.
posted by gjc at 9:35 AM on August 24, 2008

I've just spent the past year "helping" my mom deal with the death of my dad. Don't underestimate just how valuable "being there" is, even if nothing is exchanged but talk of the weather (this includes phone calls).

As for practicalities, yes, do write everything down. And, once you're not around to help, you may want to look into finding someone who can (a friend, someone from Church, etc), because grief is exhausting; suddenly, everyday details (filling out forms etc) can seem overwhelming.

The key thing I've learned about grief is, in somebody else's words, "You never really get over it, but you do get used to it." In other words, DON'T PANIC. This applies to you and your mom. Encourage her to eat well, get her sleep, and otherwise take care of herself. Time will heal ... sort of.
posted by philip-random at 10:03 AM on August 24, 2008

Did your Mom and Aunt have any special things that they did together? If so, try to recognize those days. I'll give you an example. I have a friend who's a school teacher and every year her husband bought her a bouquet to celebrate the start of the school term. The first year after he died, she was devastated by the missing bouquet. It drove home that he was truly gone. Now her daughters send flowers on that day and it means the world to her.

If you can anticipate some of those days it would be good - your Aunt's birthday, perhaps visits to their parents grave sites on their anniversary, maybe church celebrations. As your mom is grieving she may remark on some of these things. Note the days on your calendar and offer additional support then.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by 26.2 at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2008

Get 25 or more copies of the death certificate. Depending on what state your aunt died in, you can probably get them from the funeral home. They generally give you one copy but your Mom will need many for months and months to come. My Mom died in 2005 and just last month I had to send one of the copies out to verify she had died. I got 25 when she died. The one I sent out last month was #24.

It has been my experience that the most support (calls/emails/letters in your case) is really needed six months from now. Everyone gathers around for the fist few weeks but after about six months or so, everyone is gone and it's very very very lonely.
posted by susandennis at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2008

Don't push your mother or let others badger her into grieving "how she should." Obviously if she has majorly decompensated, seek help, but if your mother doesn't want to do X because people do X when someone they love dies, let it go. Be well.
posted by ShadePlant at 12:34 PM on August 24, 2008

Grieving is a process, and she needs to go through it. While we have a really strong desire to make the problem go away, it doesn't. In fact there's little an untrained person can do except love their loved ones. Everyone goes through it differently, and I don't know you or your mom, but "Just being there" is really the best advice. Even if "there" is on the other side of the planet. Most of settling an estate is paperwork and very little of it will be in motion the week you are back (besides funerary arangments, which will have been mostly done before you get back), and you can't really help with them from across the world. However I think a lot of people find the settling of an estate is therapeutic, seeing the affairs of their loved one put in a final form helps them come to terms with the death.

While you're back, just do what she wants you to do. Maybe be her personal secretary for the week. Answer her phones, sort her mail, make sure her office space is organized (the way she wants it) because it's going to get used a lot after you're gone. Run errands with her. Or, possibly, let her do all of these things herself. It entirely depends on her reaction and how she wants to deal with it.

So be available for her to talk to. Up the Skype call frequency, not just now, but, as susandennis said, for the future as well. Write her an actual physical letter once a week. The emotional content of a handwritten note is really powerful when it comes from far away.

And, you know, just love her.
posted by Ookseer at 1:22 PM on August 24, 2008

Are you available to travel with her at some point? After my father died, trips with family did my mother a world of good. I think it brought home the point that good memories can still be made and enjoyed. One's sixties can be relatively young; don't let her become old before her time.
posted by Morrigan at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2008

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