4 Ways You Can Help a Senior After the Death of Their Spouse

Watching someone you love grieve is heartbreaking in its own unique way. Many people experience this when one of their aging parents dies and leaves the other widowed. They find that the sadness they feel over losing their parent takes a backseat to the empathy they feel for their surviving parent, who they know is grieving more deeply and intimately than anyone else. When this happens, many people find solace in helping their surviving parent work through the after-death preparation and grieving process.

Here are four ways you can help your parent (or any senior) after the death of his or her spouse.

Assist with Funeral Arrangements

Nobody wants to think about a budget or paperwork when they are grieving, but financial limitations and bureaucracy are a reality in this day and age. A grieving spouse is often not the best person to make rational, wallet-based decisions, so offer your help in handling arrangements related to disposition of the body, burial site, and funeral or memorial services. If you need to cut costs, you can be the one to run numbers and find creative but respectful solutions, such as hosting an “open house” instead of a full funeral procession. Don’t let unscrupulous people upsell or take financial advantage of your loved one’s grief. Be their rational eyes and ears. That said, some grieving spouses prefer to take on a more active role in funeral planning than others, so don’t take on more responsibilities or tasks than your loved one is comfortable with.

 Contact Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Authorities

 In the days, weeks, and months following a death, there is no shortage of people who need to be contacted. One way you can help a new widow is to handle the notification of death for them. Offer to be the person who calls close friends and family to tell them about funeral arrangements. Inform organizations like churches or social groups that the deceased was a part of. Likewise, the Social Security Administration and life insurance providers need to be notified so that the spouse can begin receiving the financial assistance he or she is entitled to. Open bank or credit accounts should be closed and all debt collectors informed. However, you’ll need the official death certificate before some of these notifications can be made.

Let Them Grieve

Remember that there is no definitive formula or timeframe for moving on after the death of your spouse. People grieve in their own ways, and it’s your job to respect that. Funeralwise suggests being available, being patient, referring to the deceased by their name, and avoiding unhelpful statements like “you have to be strong now” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Listen more than you speak. This is their pain to share, not yours to fix. For some, grief will come on strong and dissipate over time. For others, grief will be delayed. It’s important you recognize the signs of grief so you can address them when they do manifest. Signs of grief can include forgetfulness, disorganization, an inability to concentrate, and a lack of interest or motivation.

 Help Them Adjust Their Life

 For many people, the loss of a spouse necessitates many long-term legal, lifestyle and financial changes that might require some tough decisions. For example, if the recently departed spouse was the beneficiary of the new widow’s insurance policies or wills (and no secondary beneficiary is named), then those documents need to be adjusted to reflect the living’s desires for disbursement after death. Similarly, many aging seniors find that downsizing or moving homes after the death of their spouse is the most practical and economical. While it may not be advisable to address such issues immediately after a death, you would be responsible to make sure that a grieving senior does not let such decisions fall by the wayside indefinitely.

Although the death of a spouse if never easy, you can ease some of that pain by helping your loved one during this difficult process. However, remember to be respectful and pay close attention to their specific needs as they grieve.

Photo via Pixabay

Ingrained with hopelessness

I am without a doubt the addict of the hopeless variety. I was the guy who would show up to an AA meeting picking up yet another white chip. The guy who everyone thought was such a good guy, but just could never get his life together. The guy you felt bad for and cheered on no matter what.  I absolutely hated being that guy, there is something about the addict ego that does not want pity, at least pity from others. Ironically though, I loved to pity myself, it was something that kept me in the throes of addiction for years.

I remember so many times hearing about or seeing someone who was celebrating multiple years of sobriety and I had known them since their first month of sobriety, we had been on the journey together yet I always was the one who veered off while others did the right things and stayed sober. I let my hopelessness define me, which made me indifferent to anything in life for so long. I also believed in the stigma of addiction, that it made me much less than other people.

Indifference is scary, I made so many snap decisions that could of had major impact on the rest of my life without hesitation. My thought process literally was that I didn’t care about myself so who cares what happens. I relapsed so constantly I don’t even know if you could define them as relapses.

One thing I knew at that time was that relapse was quite prominent in those who enter recovery. While I had met the ‘one chip wonders’ before, I knew a lot of people who took quite a few years to fully grasp their recovery and the actions it takes. There was always, no matter how hopeless I was, a little voice in my head telling me, “This isn’t the end, you are on this planet for a greater reason.”

On March 17, 2015 my mom called me and informed me that my father had passed away, I was already at a low with depression and this devastated me. After the service I spent the next two months completely isolated, I didn’t talk to or see anyone for weeks at a time, and crying myself to sleep every night. I was so broken and defeated, just waiting for my life to end. My mom called me around the middle of May that year and asked if I wanted help, I said yes of course, but had very little hope of being able to gain any kind of productive life back.

Being in an institution was what I needed, I needed somewhere I was being watched over and where I not only felt safe, but felt I at least had a chance at life. A big problem I usually suffered from was that I thought I knew what was best for me, always. The writing was on the wall that I did not know what was best for me, it took a lot of pain and suffering to see that. I won’t necessarily talk about what it was that I had personally had to do , I just want to reiterate how important it was that I was ready to listen to someone else’s ideas on what I should do about my addiction and depression. Someone who had my best interest in mind, usually someone who had been what I had been through and gotten out of it. With the attitude of being teachable, and opening up to people I trusted, truly opened up, I began to notice a change and experience some genuine fulfillment. May 17,2015 was the first day I decided to do this, I have been sober ever since.

That is not to say life has been easy, I still experience periods of time where I am down on myself and feel like I am moving backwards, the most important thing I do about it is tell somebody. There is something about opening up how I really feel to someone that really gets me into gear to do something about whatever is setting me back. Isolation is my absolute worst enemy, I get a sick twisted kind of comfort from it but it produces nothing positive. Please, if you need help, you must ask for it yourself. Find someone you trust and let them know how much pain you are truly in, it’s the first step we all must take in order to get on that path to being happy. My life is better than it ever has been and I owe it to everyone who supports me as much as I owe it to myself.

Five self-care strategies to support your mental wellbeing

From McMaster

Mental illness can affect individuals of any age, including older adults. Common mental illnesses include depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety may stem from a stressful working environment or from loneliness or social isolation. These mental health issues affect physical health, emotional and social well-being, and overall quality of life. Supporting mental health is a critical consideration to the healthy aging process. The good news is, in addition to the treatments recommended by your doctor, the following self-care strategies may help:

1.     Stay active – Exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of depression

2.     Practice mindfulness – Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helps to prevent relapses among people with recurring depression

3.     Share memories – Reminiscing in groups led by a trained program facilitator can help reduce feelings of loneliness and depression

4.     Companion animals and animal-assisted therapies – Companion animals and animal-assisted therapies can improve the physical and mental health of older adults, and animal-assisted therapies appear promising to alleviate loneliness among older adults

5.     Participate in the community – Community activities such as volunteering promote a sense of accomplishment, breaks isolation, improves physical and psychological health, and reduces some of the negative stereotypes associated with aging

Read more here…

What do I do if medications and therapy haven’t worked for my depression? I have tried many different treatment regimes and nothing seems effective. Why?

A question from Quora being answered…

Our answer:

First off, let me say, I feel for you and I know *exactly* how you feel.

All I can do is tell you my story – you have some great answers before mine, so… take it all in.

Personally, I did not even know I was “depressed” for at least ten years of living in depression. Then, at the very end, I broke down and talked to my doctor about it. She prescribed something, and WOW – it worked!

Of course, a few months later it was no longer working.

And for the next 10 years, I went on prescription after prescription and mixes thereof and I just went up and down and all around.

Self-medicating was a problem. Over prescriptions were a problem. It was … a problem.

Finally – three things happened. I became a patient of a very good psychiatrist and he took me back to one single medication that I had been on once or twice already. He changed the dosage though. And he monitored and gave it a chance. He made ME give it a chance.

On his direction, I also started an RTMS regime. (Click here for more on RTMS.)This fit very well with my belief and practice in meditation, and the retraining of neural pathways – basically, recognizing the brain as the source and recognizing that it can change its wiring – kinda the way it did in order to get and *stay* depressed.

And finally, I got to know my brain a little better – I can now recognize when a thought stream will let me spiral down – and in recognizing it, I have the opportunity to stop it before it gets out of control. Maybe the meditation and RTMS have helped with that too.

I am very glad that you came here and wrote this. You are not alone, and there really are solutions. It is so important that you know that – that is the foundation on which you can build.

Hope this helps. Take good care and let us know how you are doing. 🙂


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Summoning happiness to aid recovery

From Harvard


Positive psychology exercises boost moods of those struggling with addiction says MGH study

Short writing exercises reliving happy moments boosted the moods of adults recovering from addiction in a study conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Recovery Research Institute.

“Recovery is hard,” said lead author Bettina B. Hoeppner, senior research scientist at the institute and an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “For the effort to be sustainable, positive experiences need to be attainable along the way.”

More than 500 people struggling with addiction participated in the randomized, online survey. They each were assigned one of five psychology exercises that took an average of four minutes to complete.

Participants reported the greatest mood lift after completing an exercise that had them select and describe one of their own photos capturing a happy time. An exercise in which participants noted two positive experiences from the previous day led to the next-highest gains in happiness, followed by one that had them list a highlight and a challenge from the day before and a pleasure anticipated the next day. Those who were asked to write only about challenges they had faced the previous day saw a dip in happiness.

The study’s authors say exercises such as the ones used in their study hold promise as a tool for promoting happiness during treatment, which may help support long-term recovery.

“Addiction scientists are increasingly moving beyond the traditional focus on reducing or eliminating substance use by advocating treatment protocols that encompass quality of life,” Hoeppner said. “Yet orchestrated positive experiences are rarely incorporated into treatment.”