Supporting Seniors Who Have Recently Lost a Spouse
When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse goes through a drastic change in his or her life. The widow or widower will fall into mourning and experience intense feelings of grief and sorrow. Everyone experiences grief in their own way, and no rules exist in regards to how someone in mourning should feel. In order to move through grief, the individual needs a system of support that includes family and friends. Some people benefit from support groups and medical professionals as well.
While grieving, people feel physical and emotional pain. They often cry easily and have a hard time making decisions. They also suffer from poor concentration, and issues with sleep and appetite. Someone in grief feels a wide range of emotions, including numbness, shock, and fear. Some people may feel guilty for being the survivor, and others may feel angry with the deceased loved one for leaving.
Many people feel better sooner than they anticipated, but others take longer. There is not a normal or expected timeframe for grief. However, as time passes, the intense pain should lessen. There will be good and bad days, but eventually the good days should outnumber the bad.
For some people, extended mourning can be a sign of serious depression and anxiety. If feelings of sadness linger and interfere with day-to-day life, it may be time to seek advice from a medical professional. Without help, complicated grief symptoms can worsen so that the person finds little enjoyment in life, withdraws from all social activities, and is unable to perform self-care. He or she may even experience thoughts of suicide.
Grief can hinder one’s health, so it’s important for anyone going through grief to eat a well-balanced diet, get in some form of exercise, and get an adequate amount of sleep. Medications should be taken as directed, and bad habits – such as smoking, excessive drinking, and drugs – should be avoided. Major changes should be postponed as well, including moving or changing jobs.
Talking to caring friends is beneficial, and it’s especially helpful to be with people who let the person say what he or she is feeling or who understand exactly what he or she is going through. For example, the individual could join a grief support group. Many people benefit from talk therapy with a mental health professional as well.
Some new widows or widowers have never lived alone, and because many couples divide household chores, there can be challenges around the home. For example, one person may have paid the bills and cleaned the house, while the other person cooked meals and mowed the lawn. All of these skills can be learned, and family and friends can offer to help teach the widow or widower the new skills.
After decades of doing things as a couple, it can be difficult to face the world alone. Having an activity to do every day is helpful. Taking a walk with a friend and having books on hand are good ideas. Many seniors enjoy volunteering or joining an exercise class, bowling league, or other group. Some seniors benefit from getting a part-time job or adopting a pet.
When a spouse passes, there are many tasks to be completed, such as canceling memberships, making a list of important bills, and more. The surviving spouse will need to create a new will and may need to obtain a new power of attorney. All joint assets, such as a house or car, will need to be moved solely in the widow or widower’s name. Don’t forget about health, life, car, and homeowner's insurance.
Eventually, the senior will need to go through the deceased spouse’s personal items. This should only be done when he or she is ready. It’s helpful to make three piles: keep, give away, and unsure. Children or close friends are generally the ones who help.
Losing a loved one, especially a spouse, is never easy. While grief is an individual experience, some people fall into depression and may need support from a mental health professional. Those dealing with grief benefit immensely from help from friends and family, who can ensure the widow or widower is staying healthy, safe, and making efforts to move forward through his or her grief.
Ms. Waters started Hyper-Tidy.com to share what she has learned over more than a decade of striving for cleanliness and sustainability.