Skip to main content

A Comforting Presence in a Dark Time: Helping Seniors Cope with the Loss of a Spouse

Profoundly painful. Disorienting. Emotionally devastating. Those are just some of the ways elderly people describe what it’s like to lose a spouse. Helping a senior cope with such a loss can be extraordinarily difficult. For those who have never had the experience, it’s impossible to appreciate how different losing a spouse is from losing a parent, a sibling or close friend. The bereaved person may experience confusion, indecision, or a total lack of motivation. Suddenly bereft of a helpmate and lifetime partner, they need help but may not know how to ask for it. So what can you do?

Listen unconditionally
One of the greatest kindnesses you can perform is to listen. Listen unconditionally and with empathy. Sometimes, encouraging a grieving individual just to talk about their spouse and letting them know you’re there to listen can be therapeutic. Simply allowing a loved one to share thoughts or vent pent-up emotions can be a valuable service. But it does require patience and a sense of restraint. Saying “I know how you feel” can come across as a shallow, patronizing statement if you truly don’t know.
Part of being a good, patient listener is allowing a bereaved senior to grieve freely. They may exhibit depression, remorse, resignation, and a host of other feelings (perhaps even contradictory ones) that may be overwhelming, even startling. Try to remember that this is an important part of the healing process, a sharing of feelings that can make the difference between a debilitating emotional decline and a glimmer of light that brings a little relief and a sense of hope.

Day-to-day coping
Coping with grief often makes it difficult for seniors to perform day-to-day tasks such as paying bills or taking medication. Children can be particularly helpful by supporting a parent in these mundane-yet-important tasks, freeing them to deal with their grief without the extra burden of personal responsibility. Seniors in mourning often find it difficult to stay organized. You can help by offering to help plan a schedule or drive them to appointments.

Maintaining a physical presence can be important because bereavement may produce powerful emotional responses at unpredictable times. Something may trigger a memory that produces a sudden crying spell or proves temporarily incapacitating. Having a loved one nearby who can do the driving, clean the house or wash dishes is not only emotionally supportive but can help prevent injury at a time when your parent or relative may be distracted and inattentive. 

Time to downsize?
For seniors who suddenly find themselves alone, taking care of a house as well as themselves can be daunting. There are belongings to go through, legal matters to attend to, and more. The stress of keeping things clean and organized may become too much. If this is the case, it might be time to consider downsizing to a smaller home, where your parent would have far less they are responsible for. To keep the process manageable, Angie’s List suggests creating (and sticking to) a moving schedule, decluttering and getting rid of items no longer needed, and starting small by packing closets first.

For certain seniors, an assisted living facility may be a better option. Here, your parent would receive physical assistance, emotional support, and social stimulation every day. It can be a difficult matter to bring up, especially for someone who’s used to being independent, but the benefits of assisted living can truly make a difference for an elderly person dealing with loneliness and depression for the first time. Many facilities offer temporary stays, during which individuals can get a feel for whether assisted living is for them.

Losing a spouse and lifetime companion is an inevitability for which no one is ever really prepared. Those who suffer such a loss may have needs they themselves don’t understand. Relatives and friends can provide a comforting presence just by being near, lending a loving ear or offering a helping hand. 

Photo Courtesy of


Popular posts from this blog

But I Have Today

Do you ever have days that are just heavier than others? Of course, you do - who am I talking to? Saturday was Chris' 37th birthday. For some reason, it was unusually hard as I thought of where all his friends are today. You know, married, having kids, and enjoying their careers. I cried more than once that day. I grieved over what should have been, what could have been.  I hugged him a little tighter and thought about the progress he's made recently. The other night, I am certain he "sang" to me after I got him in bed. It was the sweetest thing and I posted it in his Facebook group where I share things I don't feel I can share as "publicly." He's moving more and initiating more of his movement on his own. There are many things to rejoice about. At the same time, I am getting older. My joints hurt and I wonder how much longer I can take care of him. I fear the day that I won't be able to. This is the way the rest of my life looks, and I am okay w

Living Grief

 As caregivers, many of us deal with daily grief and a constant sense of loss. Even though we don't feel these emotions all of the time, they do keep coming back. For me, mine is often sparked by seeing something on my Facebook feed. I'll see one of Chris' friends or a memory and it'll tip my emotional bucket right over. Living grief is one of those things the church doesn't know how to deal with. Well, honestly, who really knows how to deal with it? It's not just going to go away, now is it? :-) In some hyper-faith circles, grief is pretty much forbidden. Yet even under the old law, it was allowed room. If you lost a close loved one such as a spouse, parent, or sibling, you were given an entire year to mourn. Our culture allows a little time, but then we are expected to be back at work, back at church, or back to our daily lives after a very short time. We just keep putting one foot in front of the other. But living grief continues. When we deal with parents wh

The Best Meeting

  I know I've written quite a few times about Hagar, but her story intrigues me. I think I can relate to the rejection and loneliness she must have felt. In numerous devotions, I've talked about how God met her right where she was. She did have God "find" her twice. But there are other people in the scriptures that God met too. The list is a bit longer when we start thinking about how many times God met someone along the way. Twice He came and ministered to Hagar, He met Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), He met Balaam and stopped him before he sinned against God (Numbers 22). Jesus went through Samaria on purpose  to speak with the woman at the well. He crossed two taboos in their time - going through Samaria and speaking to a woman! (John 4) He walked out to the disciples in a storm in Matthew 8. And the Angel of God came to Gideon when he was hiding from the Midianites in Judges 6. It's easy for today's religious thinkers to label these Bible characters