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Navigating Grief: How to Help Seniors Cope with Losing a Spouse

This article was submitted to me by Jackie Waters who has had personal experience in this area.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash by Greg Ortega

“Until death do us part.”

The death of a spouse shakes up our world beyond belief - and even that is an understatement. There is undeniable grief that occurs when someone is mourning the death of his or her love of a lifetime.

If you’re reading this article, you might be looking for ways to help a senior loved one navigate the loss of his or her lifelong partner. It’s important to understand that it’s not possible to “get over” something so profoundly painful; however, it is possible to help him or her move through the mourning process.

There are a few things you can do to help a senior loved one cope with the loss of a spouse. This all starts with the stages of grief.

The Stages of Grief

Grief is a healthy response to losing a loved one. As we learn to live without the person we’ve lost, it’s common to experience our grief in five different stages. These stages do not have to be experienced in order (and sometimes they aren’t experienced at all). In fact, your senior loved one might cycle back and forth between different stages or start the entire process over again in the coming weeks, months and years.

The stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In addition to the stages of grief listed above, it’s also common for those who are grieving to experience a variety of noticeable symptoms. These might include - but are not limited to - crying jags, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, and trouble making decisions.

Survivor Responsibilities

The surviving spouse faces many responsibilities, such as planning funeral arrangements, dividing up belongings, handling household finances, and possibly even selling their house. When it comes to selling the family home, this can be an arduous process for the surviving spouse, and it should not be something that is rushed into. When the time is right, help your senior loved one determine best next steps for a move and how to make it happen. As you help your loved one prepare for their move, help them consider downsizing their belongings to accommodate their new space, but remain sensitive to items that hold significant sentimental value. One consideration is how to properly handle and preserve family heirlooms as items are donated or packed into storage. Not only do you want to protect each item; you also don't want to add to your senior loved one's pain by letting any of their most precious valuables get damaged.

When to Seek Help

If your senior loved one seems to be growing isolated or if you’re worried that the anger and depression of grief are taking a negative toll on his or her health, you may want to consider reaching out to a professional for help. Grief support groups, grief counselors, and specially trained therapists are all compassionate, helpful resources during this time of need. Additionally, the AARP, Hospice and the National Library of Medicine all provide excellent resources to help deal with bereaving the loss of a loved one. In addition, encourage your senior loved one to seek the counsel of a pastor or minister from their church. Sometimes just talking to someone else, someone with a close connection to God, can be especially comforting.

It might be that your senior loved one just needs to be around people. Great healing can be found in the company of others. Help your senior find a community group or club that they can attend regularly, or better yet encourage them to become more active in their church. A lot of senior church groups are filled with people who have been through similar experiences, which can translate into a great type of support for your senior loved one.

In conclusion, if you’re helping a senior loved one cope with the loss of a spouse, don’t expect this to be a quick process. Instead, reach out and show support and compassion. Respect that your loved one is dealing with grief, along with the complex responsibilities of being the surviving spouse. By being compassionate and seeing how you can assist during this difficult time, your actions will mean more to your loved one than you will ever know.


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