The Loss of a Spouse: Help for Grieving in the Unknown
By Jackie Waters
Losing a spouse can be life-shattering at any age. When you’re a senior, that overwhelming sense of loss can be even more devastating. You haven’t just lost a loved one -- a husband or wife -- but you’re now feeling completely alone, having to move on without your life partner.
There just aren’t any words.
When the spouse of a senior dies, everything changes. Losing the person you relied on, slept next to, and tied your identity to can cause you to feel confused, shocked, and overwhelmed. Your emotional pain becomes deeply physical. How will you get through the day? You may even be wondering how you’ll even get through a meal. Aging itself is not an easy process, and if in your recent years have been battling health issues, the grieving process can impact your health -- both emotional and physical.
Here are a few tips to help you make some sense of life during this heartbreaking time.
Emotional Changes: Signs to look out for
At first, you may feel completely numb, especially if your senior spouse was battling a long illness or suffering near the end. Some people dive into making arrangements and taking care of business, which is a good distraction-- for a while. Try to acknowledge the emotions you’re feeling, so you can heal your heart and recognize when you need help. Typical emotions tied to the trauma of losing your life partner include:
- Mood swings
- Anger and betrayal
- Difficulty making decisions
There are other emotions you may feel, but usually for a shorter period of time. If these reactions persist, it’s a good idea to call a doctor:
- Depression and feeling of being helpless
- Disconnect from social activities
- Confusion and getting easily distracted
If you have suicidal thoughts or are coping by using more alcohol or substances than normal, reach out to a friend or family member right away.
Physical Changes: Be aware of your body
The emotional stress of the loss of a spouse for a senior can also cause physical stress. When you feel anxious, angry, guilty or depressed, the surviving senior spouses may also experience:
- Reduced appetite
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Unable to stop or predict crying, in the home and out in public
- Loss of energy and feeling lethargic or oversleeping
- Spikes in blood pressure due to stress and anxiety
- Physical signs of stress such as shingles or panic attacks
Chances are you’ve experienced grief before, but likely nothing like this. It’s important you check in with your doctor regularly, and have a plan in place with a friend or family member now that you may be living alone.
Behavior Changes: How you can heal
Moving through the grief process might not be the right time to make impulsive or major decisions. If you face these choices, let someone close be your sounding board, so you can make informed decisions without feeling overwhelmed. To deal with the physical pain, set routines. Eat even if you’re not hungry. Take an evening yoga class to wind you down for sleep. Take a walk when you’re stressed and feel your blood pressure rising. You can also look into joining a support group to work through your feelings or reaching out to a grief counselor or mental health professional.
Remember, no matter your age, dealing with the death of a spouse will take time. There is no manual for working through this. Take it slow, and be compassionate with yourself.
About the author:
Jackie Waters is a mother of four boys, and lives on a farm in Oregon. She is passionate about providing a healthy and happy home for her family, and aims to provide advice for others on how to do the same with her site Hyper-Tidy.com