How to Help A Senior Who Lost Their Spouse
By Jackie Waters
You want to be there for your friends. When they stumble, you are there to help them get back on their feet. That’s what a good friend does. But when you’re trying to help someone who just had their spouse die, that’s not so easy. It can get harder when your friend is a senior since they might have lived with that person for decades. Do you know how to help a senior friend going through bereavement? What does grieving look like and when is it unhealthy?
When Mourning Becomes Unhealthy
Grieving is a normal part of the healing process after losing a loved one. That’s especially true for when you lose a spouse and someone you built your life with. When does this become a problem? Signs of complicated grief (a term meaning a senior isn’t healing after the loss) include:
- Intense sorrow
- Emotional numbness
- Thoughts of guilt and self-blame
- Withdrawing from activities
- A wish they had died along with their spouse
Sometimes these feelings can lead to abusing alcohol and drugs. Substance abuse can be seen as an escape from the pain. In fact, complicated grief involves some of the same neural pathways as addiction, making your friend more prone to getting addicted. And since many seniors have access to prescription medication, drug abuse can become a problem. If your senior friend is struggling with their grief after two months, talk to them about seeing a therapist, counselor, or similar professional. Don’t demand it! That could make your friend act defensive. Just bring it up as something that can help.
Signs of Positive Grieving
Effective grieving is an important part of the healing process. This Huffington Post article explains many healthy ways to mourn the loss of a spouse:
- Don’t immediately remove all things associated with the dead spouse. It’s impossible to whitewash memories, and such removals can be too jarring for a senior, especially right after the death.
- Grieve in your own time. While intense mourning lasting longer than six months can be a sign of unhealthy grieving, let your friend process the death in their own time.
- Build a small memorial to the spouse. It’s a way to help the senior find closure and accept the death.
Helping Your Friend Recover
One of the most important things is to open a line of communication between you and the grieving senior. Don’t let them hide from the loss. Acknowledge it to your friend. Then let them know you are there to talk. Just don’t leave it at that, as you need to show that you’re there. That means contacting your friend often, listening more than talking, and sharing positive memories you have of the lost spouse.
Many people will go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Just know that these aren’t always done in order. Everyone grieves differently, and some can go through anger first, hit acceptance, and then return to anger. Make sure you give your friend the space to go through the stages in their own order and time.
You Can Make A Big Difference
Your senior friend will feel sad, lonely, and even angry following the death of their spouse. But you can make a big difference in their grieving process. Recognize the signs of healthy and unhealthy grieving, be there for them, and let your friend go through the five stage at their own pace. It may not always be easy, but you can help your friend this way.
By Jackie Waters (C) 2017