Tips for Seniors Coping with the Loss of a Spouse

By Jackie Waters, Guest Contributor

Your spouse was your lover, best friend, companion, shoulder to cry on and life partner. Losing them is one of the hardest things you will ever face. You knew it would happen someday, but in the back of your mind you kept telling yourself that day would never come. Grieving is hard, and it’s a long process, but there are several ways you can ease the process and assist in this new transition.

Finding Your New Independence

You may have had your own friends and activities, but you always had your spouse around to not only spend time with, but rely on. You may have taken turns watering the plants or split the chores. Now that you are on your own, if you don’t do it, it simply won’t get done. During the grieving process, as well as when you get older, you may find it difficult to complete certain tasks. Part of learning to be independent is knowing when to ask for help so you can continue living independently.

Perhaps you could ask a family member or friend to come over a few times a week to help cook meals, or perhaps you are a fit for Meals on Wheels. Living alone doesn’t mean you have to forgo a healthy meal. If you are able, consider hiring a housekeeper to minimize the stress and time it takes to keep up your home or check with your health care provider to see if you might qualify for an aid. You can tidy up throughout the week, but leave the heavy-duty and strenuous cleaning to others. Another helpful option to maximize your independence is home modifications. Like grieving, aging is a natural process and unfortunately daily tasks can quickly become hazardous. Installing grab bars in the shower, handrails on all stairways, and an emergency alert system are all simple ways you can make your home safer and more accessible. Ask your loved ones for assistance.

Dealing with Loneliness

After the death of a spouse, it is common to enter a period of mourning in which you isolate yourself from all social situations. Facing the future without your husband or wife is scary, and you may have never lived alone before, amplifying that feeling of loneliness. While it is important for you to socialize, go at your own pace. Start by giving group activities a try such as going on outings with friends or exploring the activity options at your local senior center or religious organization. Now would be a good time to find a hobby or something you enjoy doing. You’ll have fun and meet new people with shared interests along the way.

If you don’t already have one, adopting a pet is another great option for seniors looking for a companion. Pet ownership not only gives you a constant friend, but it creates a schedule and a reason to get out of bed every day. A happy wagging tail or soft meows are a pleasant way to start your morning and end your day. In addition, pets can reduce stress and provide socialization through visits to the dog park, groomer and vet.

Find Grief-Specific Support

Following the death of your spouse, you may find it beneficial to talk with other people who are grieving by joining a grief support group. The group will give you a comfortable and safe environment to deal with your loss among people who are in a similar situation. Members will share their stories, get their feelings validated, and learn about the mourning process. Depending on what point you are at in the grieving process, you might not feel ready for a support group at this time. Support is there if and when you need it. To find a group, check with hospitals, local agencies, and religious communities.

The loss of a loved one is never easy, but there are tools and activities available to make the process as easy as possible. Take it a day at a time. There is no set time period as to how long you should grieve, so do what feels right to you.