The death of a spouse is traumatic at any age, but for seniors, it can be especially difficult. After decades of sharing life and all its challenges together, everything is now on the surviving spouse’s shoulders, including making decisions about where to live. Before jumping into a move after losing a spouse, seniors should understand how grief plays a role and how it can impact decision making.
Understanding the impacts of loss
Even when a spouse dies after a long illness, and death was expected, humans suffer repercussions that can alter their ability to function normally. For starters, the sudden realization that their spouse is really gone can be stunning. For many seniors, it isn’t just the loss of their life-long love, but of the one who took care of the finances, drove the car, paid the bills, and so on. A surviving spouse may feel not only loss but the added weight of knowing they have new responsibilities they may not be able or willing to handle.
Another big change is the feeling of being alone. This can be very hard on surviving spouses who themselves are fragile and who depended on their spouses for daily help. For such dependent seniors, sudden loneliness and isolation can affect both physical and mental health including decision making. The article, “Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks,” from the National Institute on Aging looks at recent research that provides a clear perspective on seniors and loneliness.
In addition, seniors may suffer from other aspects directly linked to their grief such as sleep loss, depression, anxiety, loss of appetite, poor concentration, lack of motivation, fatigue, emotional swings, and more. Some seniors may also seek solace in drugs or alcohol which can quickly become dangerous. Learn more about grief in seniors in the socialjusticesoutions.org blog, “How Seniors Can Cope with Grief.”
The stages of grief
Big life decisions like whether to move after the death of a spouse should be considered in light of the surviving spouse’s grief. Even though everyone grieves differently, there are common “stages” of grief that most people go through.
- Denial is a defense mechanism that occurs when the loss happens to help deal with the immediate feelings of shock and sadness.
- Anger comes next when reality sets in and loss becomes undeniable. Seniors may be angry with loved ones, their God, or even the deceased for leaving them.
- Bargaining happens when a senior feels there was more they could have done to prevent their spouse from dying, such as “If I’d only done this, then they would still be here.”
- Depression begins when the effects of the loss on the surviving spouse’s life become clear. Feelings may also include being overwhelmed and lonely and any of the symptoms of grief noted above.
- Acceptance is the final stage and the one that helps most seniors recover and renew living, even though they may still feel sad and miss their spouse.
By letting grief take its course, seniors allow themselves not only to get to the acceptance stage but to heal along the way. All people may not experience all stages of grief, but until they reach the acceptance stage, it is probably not a good time to make life changing decisions. More about the stages of grief can be found in the webmd.com article, “What Is Normal Grieving, and What Are the Stages of Grief?”
Considering a Move to Senior: Managing major decisions
In general, the period following the death of a spouse is fraught with emotions and feelings that can easily distort rational thinking. Although a move might seem like a good way to leave the past (and the pain of loss) behind, there are many other tactics that can help a senior heal faster and get back to feeling normal again.
One rule of thumb is to wait six months after the spouse’s death to begin making major decisions. This is often enough time to work through grief and to get finances in order, such as the will, bank accounts, investments, Social Security and Veteran’s Benefits, etc. Since moving is such a huge undertaking, and one that can involve selling a home, buying a new home or choosing a senior living community, having finances in order is essential to making the move regardless of where the senior moves to.
Waiting a period of time can also save a heartbroken senior from the further pain of making a decision that over time will prove to be a poor one. For insights about how grief can affect the decision to move, the griefhealingblog.com blog, “To Move or Not? Making Decisions in the Wake of Recent Loss” is a great resource.
The professionals at North Chandler Place are always ready to help with decisions like when and where to move. For seniors who are looking for more about how to pay for senior living, check out our Family Guide to Funding Senior Care and Housing Guide. To learn more about North Chandler Place and our housing choices and amenities, contact us today.