The changes that come after the loss of a spouse or partner can impact seniors in numerous and varied ways.
While in the midst of dealing with the grief that comes with such a loss, it can be hard for seniors to accurately assess their own needs and abilities, and it can be hard to imagine making such big changes at such a difficult time. In these difficult times of life, support and care from loved-ones can make all the difference as seniors work to learn and acknowledge what they need and how they should set up their lives moving forward.
Support Through Grieving
Everyone grieves differently, and there is no way to predict how or when the impact of the loss will be felt. At this crucial time, loved-ones and family members can do the following to help support their senior loved-one through their grief:
- Let them know you are there to lend an ear and a shoulder should they need to talk through their feelings.
- Make sure they know you are willing to help in the practical everyday ways that they need to help keep their daily loves going.
- Encourage them to express and face their feelings however they need to, and ensure they know you will be there through it all.
- Be compassionate, patient, and understanding of the fact that they need to go through the process in their own way, and at their own pace.
- Acknowledge and tend to your own grief as a caregiver so that you can care for yourself and be better able and equipped to support others.
- Share time together to avoid isolation and even greater loneliness.
Grief can also impact seniors in a physical way, and part of providing care and support is ensuring that their body is cared for just as much as their mind.
- Make sure they are well fed and have nutritious food available.
- Encourage them to eat, even when the sadness makes it feel too overwhelming to do so.
- Accompany or encourage them in keeping active, even in small ways like a short walk.
- Inform healthcare professionals of the loss so that they can monitor health in the ways they see fit.
Seniors who have been with their partners for a very long time often feel at an utter and complete loss about how to live their daily lives without their other half. There are often roles filled by each person and ways in which the two individuals support each other’s daily functioning. Not having that person around anymore to contribute may often mean that seniors need to learn to do entirely new things for themselves, or need to find someone else who can fill some of those roles in healthy ways. While all of these changes are undoubtedly overwhelming to think about and navigate, it can be empowering and good for seniors’ self-esteem for them to learn how to do new things and become more competent in areas they weren’t engaged in before. It is all a process, and it will take a while before things start to feel okay again, but they will.
As a caregiver, it can be beneficial to help identify and address the areas in a seniors’ life that need adjustments. Caregivers should take stock of which things their senior loved-ones already know how to manage on their own, and where the gaps are now that their partner has been lost so that they can work to fill those spaces and get everything working again in a new way. Family members and friends can take on responsibilities to help with the adjustment period, and can help to either teach or outsource those tasks slowly and gradually over time.
A New Stage
For seniors who haven’t lived on their own in a very long time, the adjustment can be really challenging both practically and emotionally. Loneliness is a big problem amongst the senior population, and mental and physical health both need to be tended to in their own ways. Setting things up around the house to better accommodate living alone can mean checking and evaluating things for safety and convenience. Setting up routine and opportunities for social connection is also a major part of the adjustment, to ensure that seniors don’t draw too far into themselves in their grief and lose touch with the people and things that bring them joy.
The loss of a partner is a truly difficult thing to navigate, but with emotional support, practical planning, and an adjustment of roles and routines, seniors can learn to continue living enjoyable and fulfilling lives following loss.