Losing mum and trying to support dad

My mom passed away 3 years this April just gone by. This was sadly after they both immigrated from South Africa to the UK in October 2018 where she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in December of that year. My dad cared for her for the most part, but she was eventually admitted to Sue Ryder and died shortly after that. During this sad time, my dad lived with my sister. I immigrated to the UK in the November of 2019 and he then moved in with me. As you can imagine, my dad has been very displaced and the retirement that he imagined for him and my mom never materialised. Obviously going into lockdown in March 2020 has not made life any easier for him. I suspect that he is suffering from severe depression and when I broached it with him suggesting that we speak to a professional or look at some sort of counselling, he was very snappy and told me not to be silly. As time has gone by, he has become progressively demotivated and withdrawn. He has 4 grandchildren that he shows no interest in which is heart-breaking. The atmosphere at home is getting worse sadly and I am struggling to find a way to reach my dad or communicate with him. This is causing a huge amount of anxiety for my children. I have tried to get him involved with just doing little things around the house or run little errands, but he just won’t…I was brought up very old school and I battle to assume the adult role, still feeling like a child when I try to engage with him. My husband and I have started to have little spats about the issue (we rarely argue) too. I am reaching out to you to get some insight on how best I can handle the situation and in the long term see if I can somehow get my dad to find joy in his life again.


Dear Caroline A1,

How sad that your parents only had such a short time together in the UK before your mom died. Do you think they would have made this big move if they had known this was going to happen? It must have been very hard for your dad to lose his wife to cancer, to move in with your sister, and adjust to a whole new way of living. It must have been very hard for you too, to be in a different country when your mum was ill (I am Dutch and a few years ago lost both my parents, so went back and forth between Holland and the UK). It was a big move for you and four husband to come to the UK and start a new life here in 2019. Is your sister living near you and are you able to talk about your dad with her? Does she share your concerns for him?

Grief and depression can have similar symptoms, especially in the early stages of grief. My mum to us seemed severely depressed after my dad had died, but we were told by her doctor that she was grieving and that her emotions and behaviour were normal. It was only after 6 months that she was getting an assessment and prescribed some medication and counseling. This was long before the pandemic, so your dad’s situation is different and he may not be depressed but still be grieving.

I don’t know what age your dad is, and what he was like before your mum died. He may be from a generation that does not talk about his feelings, and especially not with his daughter as he may see this as a sign of weakness. Apart from your family, does he have any friends he spends time with? Any hobbies or interests? Maybe now that restrictions have been lifted, he may show more interest in doing new things?

It would be good if he could talk with a doctor or counselor just to assess if he needs mental health support, but unfortunately you cannot make him do that. It has to be his decision. All you can do is be there for him, keep trying to involve him in family activities, find out if there are things he would like to do. Maybe there are moments where you can tell him that you love him and that you are worried about him and ask if there is anything you can do to make him happier. I am sure that if you follow your heart you will find the right way to reach out to him.

On the websites of Mind and the NHS you may find useful articles about how to recognise symptoms of depression and how to support people who may be suffering from it. You could also consider having some free online grief counseling sessions yourself with either Cruse or Sue Ryder and afterwards talk with your dad about how it helped you.

I hope that you will find this online community helpful. I am sure there will be others who recognise what you are going through and hope they too will reply to your post. xx Jo