A Guide for Being There for Your Senior Loved One Who Has Lost a Spouse

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Reaching out to your loved one when his or her spouse dies is difficult. You may not know what to say or what to do. Whether you’ve dealt with grief yourself or not, it’s never easy to console or support someone during one of the hardest moments of life. Knowing how to talk to someone who’s grieving is important. It’s also critical to understand the different stages and emotional challenges of grief.

Remember that sitting in silence is okay. Being present and supportive in company is enough. If you do feel like sharing, share something new about their spouse, like details about a trip you took together, or talk about how much the person who’s gone loved the ones who are left behind. Avoid clichés, such as, “There’s a reason for everything,” “I know exactly how you feel,” “At least they are no longer suffering,” and ‘They are in a better place.’” You may mean well, but you can come off as insincere or insensitive.

Similarly, don’t ask questions that sound like you’re justifying the death. Don’t ask if he smoked or why she didn’t wear her seat belt. For example, asking, “How old was he?” can sound like you’re implying, “If he was really old, it was his time.” Also, don’t press for details, such as the description of an accident or how healthy someone suffering an illness looked at the end. Remember that everyone deals with grief in his or her own way, so never judge; if your loved one moves on more quickly than you expected, starts dating someone new, or seems angrier than they do sad, don’t scrutinize him or her.

Many people bring food to those who are grieving, but if everyone brings food at once, the widow or widower may not have a way to store it all. Salon recommends that someone should “create a schedule for friends to sign up for food deliveries and errand running, so there’s a smooth flow of help – and less exhausting overlap.” After everyone has left and moved on, the grieving person will still have days when the thought of making dinner is too much to bear, so you can also send gift certificates for local grocery stores and takeout restaurants to be used later.

When you help someone with Alzheimer’s cope with the loss of a spouse, you’ll face unique challenges. The stage of dementia that your loved one is in will play a major role in how you share the news, as well as how he or she processes and deals with the loss. For example, if your loved one is in the later stages, he or she may not be able to comprehend the loss..

When someone dies, the surviving spouse is left with the overwhelming responsibility of closing out the deceased person’s life. From planning funeral arrangements to going over the will to closing bank accounts, there’s a long list of tasks, many of which require attention to detail. The widow or widower is sure to have a tremendous amount of stress and emotional challenges added to an already trying time. Your loved one shouldn’t feel like he or she has to handle everything alone. To help, start by making a list of what needs to be done, and then help your loved one delegate tasks to others.

Eventually, your loved one will adjust to life as a widow or widower. The good days will begin to outnumber the bad. In the meantime, stick around by setting reminders to call your loved one. Call at least once a month, and be sure to check in on important days like holidays and birthdays. Your loved one will appreciate any effort you make to offer your support.