The death of a significant other after a long-time relationship can be one of the toughest ordeals seniors go through. They have been used to having their partner in their life every day for most of their life, and once they are no longer with them, it can be hard for them to adjust. Senior’s needs while grieving may be different than you expect and understanding the best things to do for them will go a long way to helping them adjust.
One of the biggest things is not to let them forget the basics. Diet and regular meals, staying active and getting plenty of sleep should be a priority in their life. During the grieving period, it will be vital to make sure they are taking care of themselves. Grief is very stressful and therefore can have significant impacts on the immune system causing more colds, longer recovery times, and flare-ups of chronic illnesses. Encourage them to schedule and keep regular doctor’s appointments and follow-ups and make sure the doctors are made aware of the recent bereavement.
In the first several months you should be patient and not try to rush them into making any major decisions such as getting rid of their spouse's things or moving to a new location. Their immediate needs may consist of things we take for granted such as meals, daily activities, and household responsibilities which may be harder for them. Typically, in a long-term relationship, one partner will handle things such as the cooking and cleaning, while the other partner may have dealt with the paying of bills and fixing things around the house. Because of this, when one person loses their partner they may not know how to operate without them.
Help them to set up new routines for bill paying and other household responsibilities by taking the time to sit down with them and help get things under control. If they did not do the cooking and cleaning maybe, in the beginning, bring meals to them and start working on menu plans that would be simple to learn and make. If their spouse was the one that handled the bills help them to establish a budget and determine what needs to be paid every month. Make sure that you try not take away their feeling of independence while doing these things though as that could turn counterproductive causing them to become more depressed and withdrawn. Keep in mind they have already lost their spouse; they do not want to feel as they are losing their independence as well.
Overall loneliness is the most common experience after the death of a long-term partner. This was the person that they shared meals with, went out to do things with; someone that has always been there for them to talk to. Encourage them to maybe have lunch a few times a week with a community group. You could also invite them over for dinner once or twice a week. Encourage them to join a group activity and find new hobbies that interest them. By doing these things, you will not only help them to feel less alone but also to get them out of the house so that they do not close off from everyone else. Other things that could trigger them may include wedding anniversaries, their spouse’s birthday, holidays, or different dates that were special to them as a couple. On these days try to be there a little more for them. Encourage them to join a support group. Sometimes just being around other people that have been through a loss such as theirs can help them to heal.
While there are multiple ways to help your loved one adjust to a life without their partner, in the end it comes down to listening and watching your loved one to understand what they may need. Remember to be patient and understanding as they go through the grieving process and above all remind them they are not alone.