When your spouse dies, your world changes. You are in mourning, feeling grief and sorrow at the loss. The National Institute of Health had found that “…you may feel numb, shocked, and fearful. You may feel guilty for being the one who is still alive. At some point, you may even feel angry at your spouse for leaving you…” Death of a spouse at any age is a life-shattering experience. In addition to psychological impacts such as depression, grief can have physical consequences such as sleeplessness and loss of appetite. It is important to know that these feelings are normal and expected, although they manifest in different ways in different people. Grieving does not come on one size-fits-all. Although with a great impact for anybody, losing a spouse or significant other is more devastating for seniors.
For seniors, bereavement can have a devastating effect on their immune system and cause them to lose interest in their own care. This may in part explain why many seniors experience a severe decline in health or even pass away shortly after the loss of a spouse. For some, the death of a loved one can result in stress cardiomyopathy, often referred to as “broken heart syndrome”. but for seniors who have depended on each other for years, the loss can feel beyond overwhelming. “Losing a spouse is a trying time in many aspects but it can bring also some positive aspects if we can see it that way, says Bob Shannon (*) founder of SeniorsMeet.org.
Some new facts will settle in and become new realities, some challenges but also some new learning experiences that can speak to the old saying of seeing a glass half full or half empty. The financial aspect is a very important one to look at when speaking challenges. After a spouse’s death, it quickly becomes apparent just how fragile your senior loved one is, financially speaking showing as inability to handle bills and less independence in in accomplishing activities of daily living.
It is natural for health problems to arise as we age such as arthritis, low muscle strength, balance issues, and vision problems – some of which may require medication. When two people live together, help is never more than a shout away, and typically one person finds themselves reminding the other to take their medicine. Now that your loved one lives alone, that security blanket has been ripped away, leaving you to constantly worry. You may find yourself making daily phone calls or trips to check in. In some cases, your loved one may be the one making the calls, as this new world is overwhelming. It becomes a balancing act of helping out as much as possible, but also knowing when to take a step back.
If your senior loved one prefers to continue living alone, consider making helpful alterations. Simple home modifications such as stair railings, bathroom grab bars, ramps, or removing any tripping hazards will increase the safety of the home. Install a home monitoring system so your loved one can quickly and easily call for help, giving you both peace of mind.
Should your loved one have mobility issues that limit their ability to take care of household upkeep and maintenance, help them connect with professionals who can handle necessary tasks. Whether it’s having the gutters cleaned, windows repaired, lawn care, house cleaning or any other type of service, experts with top ratings and stellar reviews will give you both peace of mind. For example, many gutter cleaning companies commonly offer a discount for senior citizens. A search on Angie’s list on the topic will yield a lengthy list of professionals, some of whom may even offer specials. Having a dedicated spot to find experts ensures you both find the right people for the job.
A positive aspect: The glass half full.
While it may sound odd, the death of a spouse creates a learning experience. For example, one spouse may have never written a check or paid a bill, as their partner handled all financial obligations. In some cases, the surviving spouse doesn’t know how to cook or drive a car. All the new responsibilities can become overwhelming, but technology makes learning new tasks and skills a breeze.
Encourage your loved one to take a class at a senior center or sign up for senior classes at your local college or university. If your loved one isn’t already tech-savvy, persuade them to take a computer class to learn the basics. They can use their new skills to keep in touch with friends and family via email or social media, keep updated on local and global news, or search the Internet for whatever their heart desires, such as a new recipe for banana bread.
Don’t forget about basic tasks too. Your loved one will have to learn to take care of themselves, and this includesbasic needs such as eating right, adequate sleep, and socializing. So encourage them to stay active and healthy through exercise, healthy shopping lists, joining a local senior center or going out with friends once a week to eat dinner, bowl, or play cards. There may even come a time when your loved one is ready to consider a romantic relationship. If you find they’re longing for companionship, help them connect with senior-friendly dating sites. Making new social bonds and/or dating after the death of a spouse can be a touchy subject. Is it disrespectful to my spouse’s memory? What will my kids think? How long is long enough to grieve? Every widow and widower has different answers to these questions. In reality, there are no set answers but the will be the topic of a next post.
Daily life will change after the loss of a spouse, but with a little help, it is more than manageable. Help your loved one come up with ways to take back their independence, and live a fulfilling life comforted by the fact that they have a lifetime of memories to cherish.
(*) Bob Shannon created SeniorsMeet.org, along with his wife, Mary, to have a website that allows seniors to meet up and talk about topics that are relevant to their daily lives. They hope to build SeniorsMeet into a community of like-minded seniors.