At any age, losing someone you love is a traumatic and difficult experience. Powerful grief and depression often plague us when we’ve lost someone we love, but when the departed is your spouse, the pain can feel even more intense and devastating.
Now imagine if you are elderly and dealing with such a loss.
When a senior loses their spouse for any reason, the world is suddenly different. The stability that came with having a loving partner is suddenly gone, and is replaced by uncertainty and confusion. That’s why it’s best for loved ones to step up and help as much as they possibly can. To support a senior loved one, it’s important to know how things may change for the widow or widower, and how they can overcome their grief and enjoy life after their loss.
Remember: the longer your senior loved one was with his or her spouse, the bigger this change will be. After all, they’re rebuilding their life after losing the person they’ve been with for decades. But even if the two were only together for a few years, it will still be a difficult time, and anything you can do to show you care for and support them will go a long way.
Coping with Grief
One of the first things you can do to help a senior who’s struggling after the loss of a spouse is to help them find ways to keep grief from taking control of their life.
Help them realize that they are, in some ways, a new person now. While that may sound scary at first, there are a lot of ways that they can make the most of their next chapter. For example, they can try new activities and pick up new hobbies. Loneliness can be a big problem for a senior who has lost their life partner. To help prevent isolation, encourage your loved one to confide in their current friends and also to seek out new friends with similar interests. This can help your senior establish new routines that they will have some control over and enjoy, rather than focus only on the things that have changed that are beyond their control.
Eventually, finding new romance can help. This cannot be rushed, of course, but studies have shown that it’s possible to deeply love more than one person in your life. Finding a new romantic relationship when they’re ready can certainly help the widow or widower feel like they’re back in charge of their life again.
Getting The House In Order
There will undoubtedly be big changes in daily responsibilities for your loved one. Chances are, the couple had divided up a lot of everyday household tasks, like laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, and cleaning. Not only do they now have to do all those tasks, but they might not know how to do all of them.
Don’t let your loved one neglect daily responsibilities – especially those related to their health and safety – and if they need a hand with them, offer your help. For example, a widow might have trouble keeping their house clean, either because their spouse always helped keep things tidy or because grief is making it tough to stay motivated.
Hiring help can also do wonders, especially if you don’t live close by or simply don’t have a lot of time to help with day-to-day duties. Getting a housekeeper even just a few times each month can help ensure the senior isn’t forgetting about the basics in life. Besides housekeeping, you can hire people to help with the senior’s finances, walk or board their pets, or even provide counseling or therapy.
Honoring Their Beloved’s Memory
No matter what you do to support your loved one, they will still have difficult days where they have trouble navigating life without their sweetheart. On these occasions, try to remind them that their spouse loved them and would want them to move on and try to be happy. They may find it helpful to make it through the transition by finding activities that allow them to cope in healthy ways and honor their loved one’s memory at the same time.
For example, if your father is having a difficult time after the passing of your mother, encourage him to pick up a hobby that will be new and exciting to him, but will also make him feel close to your mother. If your mom was a whiz in the kitchen, suggest he sign up for cooking classes, where he can learn new recipes and make new friends. If your mom was a bookworm, encourage him to join a book club at his local senior center. He’ll find comfort doing an activity that your mother loved while pursuing a new interest and building a new social circle.
They Can (And Will) Move Forward
Losing your spouse is one of the hardest things we could ever deal with, and as a senior, the loss can feel even more heartbreaking. The change can feel completely overwhelming, especially at first. But with some help from friends and family, your widowed loved can – and will – emerge strong, happy, and with a sense of purpose for moving forward in life.
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