Post contributed by Jackie Waters
Losing a spouse can have a devastating impact on seniors, both physically and emotionally. Getting older is a slow transition that comes with its own physical, mental and emotional stressors, but when you couple that with the overwhelming sense of loss from losing a spouse, the aftermath can be debilitating.
When a senior spouse dies, your entire world can turn upside down. The grief and sorrow of losing someone you have likely spent the bulk of life with can cause you to feel numb, shocked and distraught. Who are you without this person next to you? How will you get through the day-to-day without his or her guidance? If aging has been a difficult journey, filled with stress or sickness, you may feel alone, isolated or even abandoned. On top of the emotional trauma, you may also start having more troubling health concerns yourself.
There is no manual for how to deal with the loss of a senior spouse. Mourning the loss of a partner can bring you to your knees. Seek out friends and relatives for strength and compassion, but also know that you have wells of these emotions within.
At first, you may feel little or nothing, especially if your senior spouse was ill or suffering. That’s often the shock of death hovering just above the surface of deep pain. Depression and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness are often a part of the grieving process, and can strike at any time. Try to reach out to a friend or family member to help you cope with your various emotions during this difficult time. Some clinicians believe that we go through specific stages of grief, while others suggest that grief manifests in mood swings that rapidly switch from one moment to the next. You might feel anxious or unsettled one day, and then upbeat or optimistic the next. However you grieve, your grief is your process of accepting and growing through the trauma of losing your life partner.
What You May Experience
When losing a senior spouse it’s not uncommon to feel the heavy guilt of being the survivor. You may even feel angry at your spouse for leaving you. Then you might experience guilt or depression for feeling angry. When dealing with the emotional aftermath of death, senior spouses may also experience:
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Uncontrollable crying, both in private and public
- Difficulty making decisions
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of energy and bouts of lethargy
- Loss of independence
- Fear of new responsibilities
How to Cope
While your emotions are healing, try not to make major decisions. If you must make these decisions, reach out to a loved one or a friend to help you feel less overwhelmed. Even if you’re not hungry, try to eat at regular mealtimes and go for peaceful walks. Though you may feel like being alone, resist the urge to isolate yourself. Spend time with your grandchildren or a neighbor. You can also volunteer and take classes at the local community center or your nearest library to stay active and social. Consider joining a support group to work through your feelings or adopting a pet to keep you company at home.
Regardless of how you feel, the grieving process takes time. There is no right or wrong way to mourn, and no timeframe to adhere to. Take your time, take it slow, and be patient with yourself.
[Jackie Waters reached out to Memory Café Catalyst wishing to share what she has learned while helping her family cope with her mother-in-law’s passing. She is also the author of a blog that provides tips on home organization and simple living.]