Question from a Reader: My husband and I are dealing with his mother’s grief over losing his father (her husband) this past January.  His father passed away in a wonderful hospice in New Mexico.  I have visited the online grief support Web site offered by Hospice of the Valley, and although it helps calm my nerves somewhat to see that other widows are experiencing the same acute grief emotions as my mother-in law, we are at a loss for how to help and support her most effectively as she is in New Mexico and we live in Arizona.  We are concerned that she definitely needs to get one-on-one grief counseling, but if she is so distraught that she cannot even call her doctor and arrange that, or even speak with the wonderful supportive people at the hospice there.  What can we do from a distance?

Do you know of any grief support sites or books that are geared to guiding those who want to help others who are grieving acutely, especially adult children?  So many great shows on NPR address the dilemmas of adult children managing their parents’ health care and aging issues long-distance, but I’ve never heard anything about long-distance management of grief support.

We are very concerned to address this quickly but also appropriately as she is enduring a stage where she doesn’t want to go on living, thinks that she is a burden to all her (amazing) friends and starting to lash out at them (that they can’t possibly understand what it’s like; she knows they think she should be better than she is; etc.)

My response: I’m so sorry to learn of the death of your father-in-law, and how good of you to be reaching out for ways to support your mother-in-law.  I will share with you what I can.

First, since this death happened so very recently, I want to point out that the reactions you describe are exactly what I would expect this early in your mother-in-law’s grief journey.  She is barely beyond the initial shock and numbness that normally occur in the aftermath of her husband’s death, and it is usually at about the 3- to 6-month point that she is likely to begin feeling the full impact of her loss.

Thoughts of suicide are not at all unusual either, but most often it is the pain of loss that the person wants to end, along with the (completely understandable) longing to be reunited with the deceased loved one.  Bear in mind that there is a vast difference, however, between sharing fleeting thoughts of suicide and actually taking action to end one’s life.

I say this not to minimize your mother-in-law’s pain and sorrow—but to reassure you that it is quite a common and very normal reaction, especially this early in a person’s grief process.  This is why I think it’s so helpful for family members like yourself to read as much as you can about the normal grief process, so you’ll have a better understanding of what you are seeing in your grieving loved one and know better how you can help to manage those reactions.  Another person’s grief can seem quite “crazy” to the rest of us, unless we fully understand what normal grief looks and feels like.  See, for example, some of the articles listed on this Open to Hope Web site dealing with Death of a Spouse.

See also Understanding the Grief Process and Helping Your Grieving Parent, along with other resources listed on my Helping Someone Who’s Grieving Web page.

Your husband’s mother may not have the interest or even the energy right now to reach out to the hospice that cared for your father-in-law.  As an alternative, you might consider contacting the hospice yourself on her behalf.  Ask to speak to the bereavement coordinator, and see if a volunteer or even a bereavement counselor would be willing to contact your mother-in-law, to let her know what bereavement services are available to her there.

Bear in mind, however, that you cannot “make” her do whatever you think is best for her, my dear.  This is her loss and her grief, and she must find her own way through it.  All you can do is find the best resources available to her and then gently encourage her to use them.

I don’t know if she is comfortable using the Internet, but I’m sure you know she is most welcome to join the online Grief Healing Discussion Groups that I moderate.  Another alternative, if she uses e-mail, is to present her with a gift subscription to my online e-mail course.

I hope this information helps.  Please know that I am thinking of you and your family at this sad and challenging time.

© 2011 by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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Marty Tousley

As both a bereaved parent and a bereaved daughter herself, Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC has focused her practice on issues of grief, loss and transition for more than 40 years. She joined Hospice of the Valley in Phoenix, AZ as a Bereavement Counselor in 1996, and for ten years served as moderator for its innovative online grief support forums. She obtained sole ownership of the Grief Healing Discussion Groups in October, 2013, where she continues to serve as moderator. A frequent contributor to health care journals, newsletters, books and magazines, she is the author of Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year: Second Edition, The Final Farewell: Preparing for and Mourning the Loss of Your Pet, and Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping. She has written a number of booklets for Hospice of the Valley including Explaining the Funeral /Memorial Service to Your Children and Helping Another in Grief, as well as monthly columns, e-books and online e-mail courses for Self-Healing Expressions, addressing various aspects of grief and loss. With her special interest in grief and the human-animal bond, Marty facilitated a pet loss support group for bereaved animal lovers in Phoenix for 15 years, and now serves as consultant to the Pet Loss Support Group at Hospice of the Valley and to the Ontario Pet Loss Support Group in Ontario, Canada. Her work in pet loss and bereavement has been featured in the pages of Phoenix Magazine, The Arizona Republic, The East Valley Tribune, Arizona Veterinary News, Hospice Horizons, The Forum (ADEC Newsletter), The AAB Newsletter, Dog Fancy Magazine, Cat Fancy Magazine, Woof Magazine and Pet Life Magazine. Marty’s Grief Healing website and blog offer information, comfort and support to anyone who is anticipating or mourning the loss of a loved one, whether a person or a cherished companion animal. She is certified as a Fellow in Thanatology (Death, Dying and Bereavement) by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, as a Distance Credentialed Counselor by the Center for Credentialing and Education, and as a Clinical Specialist in Adult Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing Practice by the American Nurses Association. Marty and her husband Michael have two grown sons and four grandchildren. They spend their winters in Scottsdale, AZ and Sarasota, FL, and enjoy their summers in Traverse City, MI. Marty welcomes reader questions and comments, and can be contacted at or through her Web sites, at,, and

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