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Thursday April 5, 2018

You consider yourself a good friend, but when someone's spouse dies, you can be at a loss for what to say or do. When you're talking about a senior losing their spouse, things can be even harder. After all, your friend depended on their spouse for many years.

How can you help your friend in their time of need? Start by keeping an eye out for an unhealthy form of mourning called complicated grief. Then, you can start giving some practical help. You may even have to recommend assisted living for your senior friend, but there is a way to do that respectfully.

The Bad Side Of Grief

First of all, it's entirely normal and expected to mourn the loss of a spouse. If your friend seems down or grief-stricken, that's usually a healthy response. When does it become bad? It's a condition commonly referred to as complicated grief. Psychology Today describes some of the symptoms of this unhealthy grieving:

  • Extreme focus on the lost spouse
  • Emotional detachment and numbness
  • Bitterness and depression
  • Not trusting others
  • Withdrawing from social activities

As The New York Times shows, complicated grief is not yet an official disorder — but many psychiatrists consider it one. There's even a treatment similar to that used for post-traumatic stress disorder, which shows how serious complicated grief can get. Since seniors may have lived with that spouse for decades, their grief can be particularly bad.

Helping Them Cope with Their Loss

When you see your senior friend having trouble with complicated grief, what can you do? You cannot simply decide they need to see a therapist or psychiatrist. Instead, the American Hospice Foundation recommends focusing on practical help for the senior. 

Saying anything like, "Call me if you need anything," is too vague. It also makes your friend who's grieving become responsible for reaching out. Many seniors in complicated grief cannot do that. Instead, here are some ways you can help:

  • Clean and organize their home.
  • Run errands like grocery shopping or getting the dry cleaning.
  • Pick up any friends or relatives coming into town.
  • Babysit your friend's children or pets.
  • Drive them to appointments.

The Tricky Question Of Assisted Living

There's one bit of practical help that can be hard to discuss: Whether the senior needs to downsize by moving into some kind of assisted living facility. This can be a very touchy subject, so start by looking for signs that it may be time to move into one.

If your friend wanders around too much, gets agitated toward the end of the day, or starts having accidents at home, then your friend can probably benefit from assisted living. The same is true when their needs start to multiply. After all, there's only so much time and care you can provide no matter how hard you work. 

But how can you even bring up the subject? Agingcare.com has some great advice. One of the best is finding a "teachable moment." This means use a problem, accident, or something similar to bring up the idea of assisted living. Then shop around for different ones and present some info on the best one. Finally, don't push. Even if you're sure assisted living is necessary, let your senior friend reach that conclusion on their own.

You Can Help Your Senior Friend

Losing a spouse is never easy, but it's especially hard for older people. If you have a senior friend who is mourning, keep an eye out for any signs of complicated grief. You can help by offering practical assistance, and if necessary, recommending a great assisted living facility. Your friend is depending on you.

—Lucille Rosetti, The Bereaved.org

Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care offers free grief support to the community at large. For more information, contact us today at 336-789-2922 (toll-free 1-888-789-2922).

Tags: Grief Support