The process of aging has many highs and many lows. One difficult aspect of aging for many is losing their loved ones, especially a spouse. Frequently, as couples age together, one spouse will end up providing care for the other, which can add complexity to grief and loss. Grief looks different for everyone. Many times, feelings of loss begin before the actual death of a loved one. Other times, death can invoke feelings of calm and peace. When one spouse loses the other, they may experience a range of losses, including the loss of memories, independence, and financial security. Adult children often play a role in the grieving process, providing care and filling in for their deceased parent as much as possible. While there is no easy way to grieve, there are ways to support your parent and ease the transition into a new way of life.
Types of Loss and Grief
Not all loss feels the same. As you prepare to support your parent after the loss of their spouse, it may be helpful to become familiar with the different types of loss and how they may impact the grieving process. Here are a few of the most common types of loss and grief:
Stages of Grief
While we each experience loss and grief in our way, there are five stages that define the grieving process. These stages do not happen linearly and many individuals may experience more than one stage at a time. However, as you continue to help your aging parent cope with the death of their spouse, it can be beneficial to understand the stages of grief to better understand and empathize with your parent.
The five stages of grief, according to the acclaimed Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Denial can refer to refusing to believe that the loss has taken place, but it can also include the feelings of overwhelm and numbness that often accompany the death of a loved one. These feelings are our body’s way of protecting us from the reality of our loss. As denial begins to fade, stronger emotions may arise. Many individuals experience undirected anger after loss. This anger may stem from lost time with a loved one or the circumstances surrounding the death. Bargaining often focuses on the past and may surface through statements such as, “If I only I could go back in time” or “What if I could have done something differently.” Depression focuses on the present. Feelings of anxiety and grief may be strong during this time. While depression may feel like it could last forever, it is an essential part of the grieving process. And finally, the last stage of the process is acceptance. Acceptance refers to acknowledging that your loved one is now gone. At this stage, individuals may begin to accept and move forward with their new reality.
Supporting a Loved One Through Grief
As you support your remaining parent through stages of grief, it’s important to recognize you may be grieving yourself. Loss is not linear and does not look the same for every individual. Remember to give yourself the time and space you need to process your grief while also caring for your parent. Here are a few ways you can support your loved one through this difficult time:
Additional Resources For Loved Ones
After you have adequately supported your loved one in the short term, it’s important to make space for yourself to process loss as well. If you find yourself fatigued in your supporting role, take a step back and remind yourself that you are only one person. Here are a few other resources to consider as you work with your parent through this grief journey.
Support Through Grief at Maplewood Senior Living
Losing a spouse is one of the most difficult aspects of aging. At Maplewood Senior Living, we offer support groups, counseling referrals, and a wide range of activities to help our residents work through their grief and start a new chapter in their lives. If you’re interested in learning more, please contact us.
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