Helping a Senior Loved One Plan a Spouse’s Funeral

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Losing a spouse is one of the most stressful events a person can go through. For seniors, that stress is even more dangerous. The depression and loneliness seniors feel after a big loss can put their health at risk. Grief also weakens the immune system, which makes them more susceptible to infection and other illnesses.

Seniors dealing with dementia and related illnesses like Alzheimer’s have an even more difficult time with grief. Memory loss, emotional instability, and other symptoms of dementia make each day after a death a unique and challenging experience. Communicating about the loss and their emotions presents a difficult task you will likely have to go through multiple times. 

There are many things you can do to help support a senior after the loss of a spouse. One of the most important things to do is to be there long after the death to listen and encourage healthy behaviors. However, if you want to help in a more immediate manner, planning a funeral can be extremely overwhelming. Stepping in to help with the organization and execution of memorial services can be a big help for a grieving senior.

First: What Not to Do

For adult children who lose a parent, it’s easy to think that details like housing, finances, wills and end-of-life documents, and long-term care plans should be discussed with the surviving parent as soon as possible. However, these conversations -- while important -- should be postponed for at least a few weeks. Your loved one is already suffering a great deal of trauma after losing their beloved spouse, and piling on more stress isn’t going to help them cope with their grief. Wait until they’ve had some time to process their loss, and then gently bring up the conversation. If they’re still not ready, give it a little more time, but if they continuously shoot down the discussion, consider working with an elder mediator to get the ball rolling and help everyone come up with a plan for care and finances.

Body Disposition Options

Chances are, the deceased already chose their preferred method of disposition, or what to do with their remains when they are gone. If they did not make their preference known, it is up to the spouse to choose the best way to do so. Today, there are many more body disposition options available than there were in the past:

     Below-ground burial - This is a traditional option, but it requires various costs, including those for a plot, casket, embalming, grave marking, etc. Seniors are generally more comfortable with the idea of having a designated place at which they can visit their loved one.

     Above-ground burial - Entombment requires purchasing a crypt within a mausoleum in which the deceased can be buried.

     Cremation - Regulations for cremation vary depending on which state you live in, but it’s a cost-effective method of body disposition. Loved ones can choose to hold on to the ashes or spread them at a place that meant a lot to the deceased.

     Donation - Donating a body to medical science is not the most sentimental method of disposition, but it can do a lot of good.

     Coffin-less burial - This method of disposition is gaining popularity because it is much more cost-effective and eco-friendly. Without the use of embalming fluids or other chemicals, the body is washed and wrapped in a shroud. The body is then buried sans coffin to decompose and return to the earth.


Not everybody wants a ceremony to memorialize a death, but many people find it is a very useful event that helps them move on. If the deceased was religious, chances are they would prefer the ceremony be held in their house of worship with words being spoken by the leader of their congregation. There may also be friends or family who would like to say a few words in memoriam. Helping a senior organize these kinds of things can be a huge help when planning a funeral ceremony.


After a funeral ceremony, people generally like to meet up at a designated place for a reception where they can enjoy refreshments and reminisce. Holding the reception at your place can take the burden off the grieving spouse. You can provide food and drinks, but don’t be afraid to ask for help or make the event a potluck. When a person dies, there are always a lot of emotions-- and a lot of food. Take advantage of people’s generosity, and let them bring the casserole.


When a senior loses a spouse, it puts their mental and physical health at risk. To mitigate the stress, they rely on friends and family to help with the arrangements. Providing assistance with choosing a mode of disposition, ceremony, and reception can help with this difficult time.

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