Dear Vicki: For 48 years, my parents had a happy marriage. They seemed the perfect couple to me: she loved being a stay at home mother and he loved being the proverbial breadwinner for the family (he ran his own consulting firm). They raised three happy children, loved their grandchildren, but always took time for themselves, too. Sadly, my father passed away a year ago and not unexpectedly, my mother has taken it really hard. Since then, she hasn’t been able to find joy in life and seems to have pulled away completely. In many ways it feels like we lost both of them when Dad died. I’m wondering if there is any way to bring my mom back; we all miss her terribly. Thanks for any advice you can offer. Signed: Orphaned in Oregon
Dear Orphaned: When a couple has enjoyed a long and happy marriage, it isn’t uncommon for the surviving spouse to have a difficult time adjusting to life alone. It can be especially hard for people with primary Earth personalities because long-term connections give meaning to their lives. And I think that’s basically what’s going on for your mother; as a stay at home mother of three there is no doubt in my mind that she is a primary Earth personality. And while the loss of a 48-year relationship will be hard for any of us, it can be especially devastating for an Earth person.
However, the flip side of the situation is that sometimes it can be easiest to bring Earth people back from the despair of loss if there are other deep and meaningful relationships still in their lives. These relationships can help them create a new version of how things were before their loss. Fortunately for your mother, it sounds like this is the case for her. She has loving children and grandchildren who clearly want her back in their lives on a regular basis, and that will help you a great deal.
Grief counselors are quick to point out that there is no “correct” amount of time to spend grieving the loss of someone dear. Different people, and different elemental personalities, will need differing amounts time and space to grieve. However, a year is usually long enough to respect the process, so it seems this might be a good time to start taking steps to bring your mom back into the flow and connections of daily life. If done gently and without insistence, here are several ways you can encourage your mother to rejoin her family.
First, it’s important to remember that for the bulk of your mother’s life, she was used to the presence of your father. That he ran his own mid-sized consulting firm – which takes planning, assertiveness, and sales skill – suggests to me that he was probably a primary Wood personality. Wood people are very structured, so your mother probably relied heavily on him to bring structure to their lives. With him gone, she may need help structuring her life.
If you or any of your siblings have a primary Wood personality (or even a strong secondary Wood personality), it might be helpful to bring that familiar dynamic to discussions with your mother about moving forward. Earth people have their own structure, which when balanced often feels rich and supporting. But when stressed, Earth people can take on the fragile character of indehiscent, cracked dirt. Providing familiar structure might make it feel safer and more comfortable for her to create a life without your father.
Another important way to help your mother re-enter your lives is to show her how much you need her. It is possible that, in order to give her the space to grieve, you have been managing things on your own so as not to worry her (which, as the daughter of an Earth mother, you know she can do). However, your mother might interpret this as an indication that she is no longer needed. At some level, all Earth personalities need to be needed. Help her see how much you all still need her in your lives.
Finally, as you well know, Earth personalities thrive on deep, lasting connections. An important connection has been taken away from her which has probably depleted her Earth energy. But she still has a family full of important connections left. If you’ve been giving her space to heal, it’s probably a good time to start actively including her in as many family events as possible. You may have to bring her to the event and take her home, but do whatever is necessary to make it easy for her to be there.
And remember, in the Five Elements model it is the Fire element that feeds Earth. You might plan a few events for her that are fun and outgoing in ways you know your mother will enjoy (a picnic, a lively dinner, even a small party to celebrate someone’s birthday) to bring some Fire energy in to help rebuild her Earth.
I truly believe that gently reintroducing fun time with your mother’s large remaining family will remind her of how much she needs and wants connections with all of you. A few months of regularly immersing your mother into the lives and activities of those she loves will likely be all it takes to bring your missing mother back. She will be different – her lifetime mate is gone – but she will still be your mother and grandmother, and her presence back in your lives will be healing for all of you. Blessings to you, your mother, and your family!