Emotions and Spirituality
My mother’s dying and my father won’t talk about it. How can I help my father cope with my mother’s illness?

Your father probably finds this a very difficult and stressful situation. People deal with stress in different ways, and no one approach is better than any other. As well, people’s responses can change over time. They may not want to talk right away, but may open up with time.

Your father may not be ready to open up now. Fathers often feel they have a role to maintain, and that they have to be strong when there’s trouble in a family. Your father may feel that silence is a way of showing strength and courage while your mother is dying. He may be having a hard time imagining life without your mother and be worrying about the future. He may have never faced a situation as difficult as this, and so may be struggling with how to act and what to say.

One way of inviting your father to open up is to talk to him about your own feelings. Let him know you’re willing to listen to anything he may want to say. If he sees that you’re okay with talking about your mother dying, it may tell him it’s okay for him to talk about it if he wants. This may work, or it may not. At least you’ve opened the door and let him know you’re willing to listen if he wants to talk. Your father must decide when he’s ready to go through the door.

If your father doesn’t respond to your invitation, it’s probably not productive to keep mentioning it. At this point, simply be present for him. This may be all the support he can accept right now. People tend to react to the stress of someone dying in the same way they’ve reacted to other stresses in their lives. Those who’ve responded with silence to the stresses of work, health, or finances usually respond in silence to grief and loss. Over time and with the continued presence and support of family they may slowly start to open up.

Your father may have friends or a faith community, who may be able to help him open up. They too may let him know in subtle ways that they're there for him if he feels like talking. It may be worth exploring whether your father has such a network in his life.

Sometimes sadness can worsen and become a severe depression. Watch for signs that your father isn’t eating, or sleeping, or has lost interest in things that used to bring him pleasure. If you notice these things, or you’re worried about your father's physical or mental health, let someone on his health care team know about it. Someone who is depressed may need medical help to recover from it.