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Whether it’s anticipated or out of the blue, the death of a spouse shakes a senior’s life to the core. After years to decades of sharing life together, a cherished life partner is gone and life looms ahead. It’s normal to feel intense stress and sadness during this difficult time, but there are a few ways to help yourself move forward.
Give Yourself Time to Mourn
Grief is a complicated thing, and it takes a unique shape for every person experiencing it. It’s normal to feel lost, heartbroken, and even angry. Take time to process your loss in a healthy manner and don’t let relatives rush your mourning. There’s no “right” timetable for processing the death of a loved one, and as long as you’re managing life and moving forward, you’re doing alright.
For many elderly widows and widowers, sorting through a deceased spouse’s belongings can bring grief back to the surface months, or even years later. Before you start on this emotionally challenging task, arm yourself with good memories and familial support. Take time to reminisce as you organize, but resist the urge to save every item. Instead, seek out the objects that capture the essence of your loved one — a wedding ring, a favorite dress, or a cherished quilt.
If you’re having trouble parting with inconsequential belongings, ask a friend to help you take photographs before you drop things off at the donation bin. That way, you can look back fondly without worrying about the physical items.
Find a Support System
Losing a life partner is an incredibly difficult time in anyone’s life. For seniors, it can also be a very lonely experience. Elderly adults often spend most of their time with their spouse, and it’s not until that spouse dies that they realize they have few others to turn to.
However, it’s never too late to start cultivating a support system. Reach out to adult children, family members, and old friends willing to lend an ear. Become more involved in your religious community and find new ways to connect with the congregation. If you have a hobby, seek out other seniors who share your passions. And if you’re struggling to work through your grief, attend grief support groups to help you through.
Strong support networks are important during every stage of aging, but following a spouse’s death is perhaps the most critical moment. Seniors are at an increased risk of complications from grief that range from depression to heart attacks, and having someone to lean on can make a world of difference.
Downsize Your Responsibilities
After decades of sharing life with a spouse, the reality of day-to-day responsibilities can be overwhelming to a widowed senior. If the wife who always handled the finances has passed away, the surviving husband may not know where to start when it comes to paying bills and balancing the checkbook. If a doting husband has always tended to the lawn and garden, the landscaping could become unruly before his widowed wife finds her bearings.
Rather than try to handle all this on your own, aim for a lifestyle with fewer daily responsibilities. For seniors with a sizable budget, that could mean hiring help around the house. For others, it might mean leaving the house behind altogether.
When managing a home becomes too much to handle, downsizing your home simplifies your life to better fit evolving needs. When searching for a new dwelling, think about how much square footage is manageable, the accessibility of the home, and whether it’s convenient to family and friends, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and other places you frequent. If you plan to lease, look for apartments that include landscaping and maintenance with the rent.
Losing a beloved husband or wife is the most difficult moment in a senior’s life, and while there’s a lot to manage, taking care of yourself starts first.
This blog contains discussion about health-related subjects, and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnose or treat any disease or illness. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact your doctor immediately or call 9-1-1.