How can we help MIL with her grief?


My stepfather-in-law, Gene, died in early May of a heart attack. Although he had heart problems, his death was still sudden and unexpected. He and MIL had just bought their “dream house” in Arizona and planned to retire and move there full-time (previously, they lived there in the winters only). SFIL died the week before they had planned to move in.

MIL is still having a very hard time coping. DH was talking to her tonight and she was speaking very fatalistically, saying that she wanted her grandkids to remember her with fondness like they remembered Gene, etc.

She said she’s gone to two pastors and a therapist to talk about her grief, but all of them were “jerks.” (She wouldn’t elaborate on how they were jerks other then saying that the therapist had a picture of her husband on her desk, which MIL found offensive because it was “rubbing it in” that the therapist had a husband and she didn’t).

She went to a “Christian psychic” :rolleyes: who took her money in exchange for telling her that her husband was fine and happy and wanted her to be happy too. (I could have told her that.) She said that’s the only “comfort” she’s gotten, but she’s still angry at God for taking her husband from her, etc. (FWIW, she’s Protestant.) Understandable, but I’m really afraid she might go over the edge and do something drastic.

Long story short, DH and I are going to go visit tomorrow, and frankly I’m not sure what we can say that might help. DH is going to call Catholic Charities and get a referral to a grief therapist and he’s going to try and persuade her to make an appointment with him/her. Other than that, we’re not too sure what to say to her.

Anyone have experience in this regard?


Grief counseling sounds like the way to go.

I don’t think it’s possible to really make someone feel that much better after a loss like that. I know we can say things to help people cope, or to keep them busy…but grieving over the loss of a spouse is natural.

She sounds like she really needs a little extra help though. I can offer my prayers. Sorry I don’t have very good advice.


Watch her very carefully… We just had a deacon in our parish die after an illness and his wife went home and killed herself. It was devastating! Be there for her please! Don’t just assume she is getting help from her priest or counselor. Spend time with her, she probably needs company, but see if your dh is needed to do chores his step dad would have done like mowing or houseold stuff. When he goes to do those things maybe you can take her out for coffee or just spend time with her.


Grief counseling, time, and prayer are my suggestions. My father passed away under similar circumstances. My parents were supposed to be moving into their dream house 2 weeks after my dad died suddenly of heart failure. It took about a year for my mom to feel “good” again. She did go to group grief therapy (info was given to her by the mortuary) and it helped quite a bit. She also did take some anti-depressants for a very brief time and in very low quantity.


First of all the grieving process is very hard. Anger is often the first stage particularly when the death is sudden. Often the grieving process can take years. Does your MIL use the computer? If so here are a couple of websites that she might find useful.

Sometime the best medicine is talking to others who have been there.

Now for what you can do. Anticipate that this will take time. Ask about her and ask her to tell you things about Gene. Just saying the person’s name is helpful. Don’t get frustrated. She may resist the grief therapy because she may not be ready. Her fatalism is because she is faced with her own mortality. We know we will die, but often it seems far away. But not now for your MIL. It is very much present for her. Our culture thinks grieving should be quick, but many times it is not.


MIL has to go through all the steps of bereavement before she can come to acceptance. Knowing the various steps does not keep a person from the experience, but it does help the person understand why he/she is feeling a certain way and that those emotions are normal.
The best way to help is by simply being there, without judgement. It is important that she receive adequate nutrition even if she does not feel like eating. The following story may not give you an exact answer, but maybe it will help you help her toward the activities that bring joy to life.
It seems that eagles are particularly subject to depression. In order to draw out the depressed eagle, the other eagles will kill prey. Instead of giving the prey to the depressed eagle, they will allow some of the blood to drip on his beak. The taste of the blood motivates the eagle to go out and hunt for his own food.


There is an excellent apostalic Letter on the meaning of suffering that may help. Other than that, to pray for her and to help teach her the Rosary. If she can understand how Mary dealt with her son’s death, that may help.


I think you and your husband are on the right track. Grief counseling, prayers and being there for her are all you can do. My MIL went through something similar several years ago. She lives across the country from us and she completely withdrew - wouldn’t pick up the phone, wouldn’t respond to messages, wouldn’t call for weeks – it was very scary. We just had the kids make her cards and pictures and we mailed them to her, sent her flowers through that 1-800 service, tried to let her know we cared. She eventually built a social network with other widows through her community center and she is doing well now. My prayers are with your MIL at this horrible time.


At least she’s willing to talk. My mom thinks she has to deal with it on her own and would probably never ask for help.

All you can do is make a suggestion. You can’t make her go.



Everyone’s response to grief is different. What irritated us most was all of our friends and family harping on the so called “stages” of grief that we must “go through”.

Here is a link with downloadable info.

God didn’t take her husband. He called him home.
He has been “born” into eternal life.


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