It’s never easy to lose your spouse. Their passing means you have lost a friend, confidant, partner, and more. But when a senior loses their spouse, it can be devastating. They spent decades together, making the loss much worse and without a healthy grieving process, it will be challenging to move forward, writes Hazel Bridges.
As a caregiver, relative, or friend, you can help this senior get through their grieving process. To do this, you need to know what a healthy grieving process looks like. Then you can offer some help if grieving turns bad, even finding a treatment center if there are signs of substance abuse. But first, you should expect anger and sadness in this process. In fact, both can be part of a healthy grieving process.
What a Healthy Grieving Process Looks Like For a Senior
There are many ways your senior friend can react to the loss of a spouse, but here are five common ways.
- Anger: Upset over the situation, others, or even yourself.
- Denial: Trying to act like the loss wasn’t devastating.
- Avoidance: Refusing to talk about your spouse’s death.
- Reaching out: Talking to others to cope with the negative emotions.
- Acceptance: Accepting the death and moving on.
That means it’s not just normal to experience anger or sadness during this process — it can also be healthy. There’s no need to try and help the senior avoid negative emotions. In fact, they need to experience them in order to move forward in the grieving process.
As the American Hospice Foundation explains, it’s also normal to feel disorganized, unfocused, and unmotivated. Losing a spouse is a devastating loss for a senior. It’s also a huge change in their life. Give your senior friend time to process grief and go through it.
Signs a Senior Needs Help
But how much time is too much? Although depression and anger are both common and healthy responses to losing a spouse, it is possible for a senior to enter what is not a healthy grieving process.
This is commonly called prolonged or complicated grief. The Huffington Post has a great interview that explains this. It’s when the negative emotions are very intense and do not get better over time. If your senior friend has severe depression, intense yearning for their spouse, and emotional numbness lasting months without improving, they might have prolonged grief.
Thankfully, there are ways you can help, such as keeping an eye on how they are eating/sleeping, helping them remember refills on their prescriptions and keeping doctors’ appointments, etc.
Why Seniors Can Fall Into Substance Abuse
Even with your help, your senior friend can feel so much pain that they turn to drugs or alcohol. That’s why seniors can get trapped in substance abuse. Given their age and health concerns, seniors have a particularly rough time with addiction. Then there’s the availability of prescription drugs, which can lead to addiction as much as anything.
If this happens to your senior friend, you may need to suggest a treatment program. This has to be done delicately so the senior doesn’t get defensive or oppositional. Don’t stage a formal intervention without first talking openly but respectfully about the addiction. The senior probably knows they have a problem and might be receptive to a kind word.
Grieving Takes Time
You see the senior in pain and you want to help. That’s a great thing to do once you know how a healthy grieving process looks like, what actions you can take, and what to do if substance abuse is a problem. Just don’t expect things to get better overnight. Grieving the loss of a spouse is a process, so make sure you give your senior friend the space they need to get through it.
About the Author
After overcoming breast cancer at age 60, Hazel Bridges vowed to never waste another second. Every day, she challenges herself to live life to the fullest, and she wants to inspire other folks her age to do so as well.