Tips for Helping Your Aging Parent Cope with the Loss of Their Spouse
A Guest Post by Hazel Bridges
Chief Wellness Coach for Seniors
When a parent dies, it affects the entire family. You, your siblings, and your children will likely be forced to deal with things that you’ve never had to deal with before. Though the death of a parent or grandparent is an incredibly trying time, the death of a long-time spouse can be truly devastating. Though you are going through your own grief, your elderly parent needs your help in dealing with the loss of their love. Here are some tips on how you can help.
Take over the duties in the initial aftermath
The last thing you want your grieving parent to have to do is deal with all of the arrangements that must be made in the initial aftermath of their spouse’s death. Taking over these responsibilities can relieve some of the burden. Immediately following the passing, funeral arrangements need to be made. Extended family and friends need to be notified. Financial institutions, insurance companies, and government authorities need to be contacted and accounts settled. By taking charge of the legal and financial side of things you can give your senior parent room to begin grieving.
Know that there is no set grief pattern
The emotional toll of their spouse’s death on your aging parent may be severe. Your parent may experience any number of feelings of depression and anxiety. Your parent may be angry at times, and deeply guilty other times. They may seem normal one day, and completely despondent the next. It’s important that you understand that the grieving process is different for everyone, and that in most cases, these feelings will regulate themselves over time. As ComfortKeepers.com says, “a widow or widower might feel anxious and depressed one day, and feel quite cheerful the next. Over time, those swings diminish in both frequency and intensity until a level of emotional adjustment is reached.”
Severe depression is a problem, however – depression that lasts for a long time following the loss. Some signs include confusion, apathy, inability to eat or sleep, and self-imposed isolation. You should encourage your parent to talk to friends, take up a new hobby, spend more time involved in church or community activities, or even adopt a new pet. Keeping your parent engaged in life is the best way to prevent them from shrinking away.
Help with their daily responsibilities
Even if your parent only had to deal with their normal day-to-day responsibilities following the death of their spouse, grief would make it difficult. But in many cases, the surviving spouse is now faced with all the responsibilities that their partner once took care of. You (and your siblings and children) should pitch in to help with the housekeeping, cooking, yard work, bill paying, transportation to appointments, etc.
Know when it’s time to downsize
It’s often hard for seniors to live alone – especially after the death of a beloved partner. It’s uncommon for seniors to make the decision to leave their home and downsize to an assisted living community on their own, so it falls on you to know when the time has come to broach the subject. If your parent is unable to keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities without a lot of help (bathing, eating), seems severely isolated, or has mobility issues or a medical condition that makes living alone a danger, you should consider downsizing to assisted living. Here are some tips for making that transition smoother.
It’s hard to be a rock for someone else when you also feel like you’re crumbling, but the loss of the matriarch or patriarch of the family likely hits the spouse the hardest. Aging complicates grief and vice versa. It falls on you to help them in the initial aftermath and in the weeks and months following, make sure they are emotionally healthy, and to know when it’s time to make a living change. For additional help, encourage your loved one to sign up for an online wellness course or join a support group. Grief takes a support system, and you are one of the many pieces in this crucial system.
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