Surviving the Loss of a Spouse: How to Find Support and Move Forward

The death of a spouse is an incredibly difficult thing to manage, and understandably, it can be hard to know where to start when trying to move on and live your life. Older adults have special challenges, and family and caregivers can be helpful.

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Surviving the Loss of a Spouse: How to Find Support and Move Forward
6 Min Read February 27th, 2023

No one can ever be truly ready for the death of a loved one, especially a spouse. However, there are ways to cope and get through these challenging moments.

Death always comes at the most inopportune moments, as its timing is obscure. Those moments when those individuals suddenly pass away are the most surprising and upsetting. Many fear it and loathe the fact that they, too, will die someday. But the one thing many never wish to think about is the death of those they love the most.

Here are just a few helpful tips to learn how to live after the death of a spouse, so you can see life through a different lens and continue to live peacefully. Plus, the steps you can take to help an older family member when they suffer following the death of their spouse.

Acknowledge the Grief

It is crucial to allow yourself time to grieve and process the loss of your partner. Don't be afraid to express your emotions, whether it be through talking with friends or family or writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal. 

Grief can be a challenging emotion to process, and it can feel overwhelming. A sudden loss of a loved one is particularly shocking and disorienting, making it hard to cope with and comprehend.

Ricki Ray, MTS, CBC, a hospice counselor at Banner hospice, says you are doing more than just mourning a loss.

When someone you know and love dies you aren't just mourning a loss, you are also dealing with the trauma of how they died. Whereas with an anticipated death, we can make sense of the situation and brace ourselves emotionally.

Whether you feel overwhelmed with sadness, guilt, anger, or numbness- it is important to recognize and accept all of your emotions. Some people find it helpful to write in a journal, create art, or take up a new hobby- whatever allows you to express yourself in a healthy way. 

However, experts say to allow yourself time to heal and grieve at your own pace without feeling rushed or pressured by others. 

Keep Lines Open with Friends and Family

It may be hard to talk after the passing of a spouse, much less convene with anyone for a time. You can count on the fact that your friends and family will offer their support when you're ready to talk. Keeping in contact with them, even if they do all the talking at first, will reassure them that you're still processing everything and you'll surface when you're ready.

Immerse Yourself in Your Religious Community

Many have communities of all kinds and groups that they belong to. These social clubs help them to branch out and find some sense of self and communion with others. Having this time with others is a good buffer between your personal and social lives, which can help alleviate some of the stress and pressure you may feel, even after an extended period.

Contact Your Doctor When Needed

Sometimes grieving requires medical attention in the form of therapy, medication, or both. Consulting a medical professional is nothing to feel ashamed of. Don't be afraid to resource your physician for any ailments you may have after the funeral. They can treat you as your ailments progress and digress to get you on a path of health following such a tragedy.

Find a Grief Counselor for Those Hard Conversations

Don't try to go through this alone - reach out for help when needed. Sometimes speaking with friends and family isn't enough. Consider speaking with a grief counselor or joining a support group for those who have experienced similar losses. Connecting with others who understand what you're going through can provide comfort and connection during this difficult time. 

Though you trust and love them, not everyone will understand your perspective. You'll need a professional to confide in during these situations so that you can vent and open up about what is troubling you the most. Licensed therapists and counselors have the training to take on such difficult situations with great success.

Stress and Grief

There are emotional distress responses due to grief, explains Dr. Maureen Malin, a geriatric psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. It's important to understand how this can jeopardize your health because grieving takes a toll on the body in the form of stress.

That affects the whole body and all organ systems, especially the immune system. Evidence suggests that immune cell function falls and inflammatory responses rise in people who are grieving. That may be why people often get sick more often and use more health care resources during this period.

Intense grief is a common emotion after the death of a loved one. Enveloped in the sadness, many individuals experience depression. Up to 50% of widows and widowers experience a range of depression symptoms during the months that follow their spouse's passing, a percentage that decreases to 10% by the one-year mark. 

Depression is linked to specific symptoms such as an extreme sense of hopelessness, insomnia, loss of appetite, suicidal thoughts, worthlessness, and mental and physical sluggishness. 

According to Dr. Malin, people struggling with depression often detach from social connections, furthering their sense of isolation, and often begin to neglect their physical and emotional well-being. 

You're not as interested in life. You fall down on the job, miss doctor appointments, stop exercising, stop eating properly. All of these things put your health at risk.

Focus on What Brings You Joy

While grieving is an integral part of healing after the death of your spouse, try not to forget about enjoying life too! Doing things that bring joy, like spending time with loved ones, engaging in hobbies you enjoy, or doing something special for yourself, can all provide comfort during this difficult time. 

How to Help Older Loved One Upon Spouses' Death

Death is one of the most difficult challenges as we get older, and it can be even more complicated when a spouse passes away. Whether it is your parents, or other friends and family, helping them with this loss will be helpful for them. 

Losing a loved one is an incredibly trying time, and it can be hard to know how to help an older adult who needs support during this challenging period. 

Be sure to offer comfort. Listen to them, let them express their emotions, do simple tasks for them if they need help, or just spend time with them. A compassionate presence can be incredibly helpful in providing a sense of comfort. 

It is essential to respect their grief process. Everyone moves through grief at different speeds and in different ways, and it is vital to recognize that. Provide compassion, understanding, and acceptance as they go through this difficult process. 

Remember to help with practical matters. This may include things like helping with making arrangements, dealing with the estate, paying bills, cleaning the house, running errands, or cooking meals. 

Make sure the surviving spouse is taking care of themselves physically and emotionally. Often with older adults, the survivor starts to decline quickly. This does not need to be the case, and your support can help remind them that life is still worth living.

If the individual is living in a long-term care facility, ensure the staff is aware and paying attention to their needs. The same is true for in-home care providers. The caregiver's compassion during this time will also be helpful.

Older adults should always remain active; those in grief must be highly encouraged to do so. Be sure they engage in activities. Help them stay active and engaged by suggesting activities that may provide physical and mental stimulation. This could include simply feeding the birds in their backyard or going for walks. Activities like this can also create a sense of normalcy.  

Day by Day

Losing a spouse at any age is difficult, but helping an older adult through this difficult transition can make a significant difference in their well-being. Offering comfort and understanding, assisting with practical matters, and engaging in meaningful activities can all be incredibly helpful. 

It is normal to still feel the pain of losing your spouse as time passes. Even though there will be days filled with sadness and grief, there are also days when the pain is lessened and moments of joy and contentment.

Pay close attention to the days that bring optimism and happiness, as they may remind you that healing and strength are achievable. It is also very common to feel guilty for moments of joy, but it is important to understand that it is ok to smile and laugh again.

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

Editor's Note

Death is part of life, but we live before we die. Longevity can bring challenges, including chronic health problems, mobility issues, dementia, and frailty due to aging.

Long-term health care has become part of the life experience for many people. Most of us will not want to place the burden of caregiving on our family. Professional care does usually mean quality care, but that is costly. Too many families are unprepared for the costs and burdens of aging and long-term care.

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Most people get coverage in their 50s, but you need fairly good health to get coverage.

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You might have questions about long-term health care planning, and LTC NEWS provides the answers for many of the most asked questions here - Frequently Asked Questions | LTC News. Find all the resources available on LTC NEWS - Resources for Long-Term Care Planning | LTC News.

Find the cost of care where you live by using the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator - Cost of Care Calculator - Choose Your State | LTC News.

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Long-term care is very specialized, and few insurance agents and financial advisors have the expertise. Find a specialist who represents the top companies, as premiums can vary over 100% between insurance companies. Leading specialists will often have over 500 clients with Long-Term Care Insurance.

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Experts recommend seeking the help of a qualified and experienced Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to help you find the right coverage. A specialist will match your age, health, and family history with the right coverage at the right price. 

Loved Ones Need Help Now?

Get help finding quality caregivers or long-term care facilities and get recommendations for a proper care plan, whether a person has a policy. - Filing a Long-Term Care Insurance Claim | LTC News

If your loved one is lucky enough to own a Long-Term Care Insurance policy, be sure they use it. Sometimes families wait, thinking they can save the benefits for a rainy day. Waiting on using available Long-Term Care Insurance benefits is not a wise idea. 

Advantages of Reverse Mortgages 

Today's reverse mortgages for those aged 62 and older could be an ideal resource to fund a Long-Term Care Insurance policy OR even provide money to pay for care if you, or a loved one, already needs help and assistance. You might be eligible at younger ages as well. 

Some people have much of their savings invested in their homes. With today's reverse mortgages, you can find ways to fund care solutions, care itself, and even help with cash flow during your retirement. 

Learn more by asking questions to an expert. Mike Banner, LTC NEWS columnist and host of the TV Show "62 Who Knew" will answer your questions regarding caregiving, aging, health, retirement planning, long-term care, and reverse mortgages. 

- Just "Ask Mike." - Reverse Mortgages | LTC News.

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