Grieving and dealing with the death of a spouse is one of the hardest life situations. It may lead to sadness, anxious thoughts, and hopelessness. The elderly group is the one that suffers the most amongst the other age groups. The bereavement can have a devastating impact on their immune system and cause them to lose interest in their own self-care, which may be the reason why many seniors experience health deterioration and even pass away following the death of their spouse.
Think about the facts: ageing requires dealing with development and social changes like loss of job, deteriorating health, retirement woes, inability to do daily tasks. Now, there is an additional devastating and overwhelming situation where these elderly need to learn to live without the presence of their significant other!
It can be very daunting and life-altering, which would be leading to:
As carers and family or part of the social circle of such grieving elderly, we have an important role in helping them cope and overcome the loss of their spouse. Especially as we are enveloped in a pandemic, death being extremely sudden and denial of death rituals can add to the grieving process. Hence, we need to be more attuned to make sure we contribute towards bettering the post spousal death life of the grieving elderly.
What are the signs? What are the changes? How can we help our grieving elderly?
Those who are around them most days can usually be mindful and pick on any unusual behaviour, to identify and help with the process of grief and acceptance.
(Related: Living Without the One You Cannot Live Without - Research on Aging - YouTube)
Knowing useful tips and practical steps can aid in helping the elderly cope with the loss and help bring about positive changes.
Being able to understand and identify how the elderly are feeling can help to plan activities and situations better. It would be better if one is careful and adapts to the situations and likes of your elderly and one’s surrounding.
The first step is always to acknowledge the sadness the loss can bring, else it can worsen the pain. We run away from talking or addressing the loss or grief thinking we will aggravate the situation. But discussing, sharing, and talking about it can be more beneficial to process and heal the pain.
Several things can help in better expression of grief:
Grief is accompanied by sadness/hopelessness and loss of interest in any form or activities and several times isolation from friends/family. Carers can organize and plan activities that can help these grieving seniors engage in and help them rediscover their happiness. Activities can include spending time with friends over tea/lunch, watching their favourite movie, going for a long walk or any other physical activity they can do or adopting a pet. Pets can help and have proven to provide companionship and have been found to help lower stress levels and depressive symptoms too.
One of the major concerns posts the death of a spouse is disregard of self-care followed by a sense of loss of independence. They might have multiple activities that were done together or were dependent on their spouses, hence their absence causes a greater sense of loss. How often or not we have seen our grandparents or parents enjoying evening tea together or doing some ritualistic activities with each other!
As careers, we can help in such a situation by keeping a track of their mealtimes, physical health, emotional needs, and other activities that they usually performed with their beloved. Also, gently encouraging them to undertake their daily activities with relaxing activities can help restore self-care and independence. Indulge in yoga or watch some comedy acts/movies when appropriate, so as to promote a sense of normalcy and acceptance of the life after the departed spouse.
A lot of times grief can cause uncontrollable emotions and hopelessness or even self-harm. It may be indicated by them avoiding their medication, avoiding meals or ruminating in their thoughts for days or mentioning death.
There is a need to promote and help them seek professional help when required. Professional help through government agencies or free call services or online psychology platforms (provide help through the comfort of one’s home) can aid to resolve issues before they escalate into anything fatal or prolonged. Some services offer counselling services from the comfort of your home, where you can discuss your issues, find reprise and explore options to cope.
(For more information on professional help: https://happimynd.com/services)
Knowing where to find help, knowing the signs, knowing how we can help and attuning to the needs of the grieving elderly can help us promote and support their overall well-being. Additionally, seeking help through counselling services or using chat for support services can be beneficial while we work our parts together with professionals.
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” – Vicki Harrison