For everything there is a season. Unfortunately, the season we will all face is often ignored, too painful to consider. Sooner or later a spouse will pass.
Acknowledging this season is difficult but it can be done. I recently had two families call for assistance with very similar situations. They had two different ways of handling the death of a lifelong partner. The purpose of the article is not to judge these families, but to learn from trials and successes.
Both were gentleman who lost a wife and now faced an empty house alone. In both situations they retired here to Florida and the extended family lived in other states. After the funeral, celebrations of life, family breakfasts and dinners, eventually everyone went home. What then?
A daughter in the first family stuck around for several weeks after. Wanting to make sure Dad would be OK, she had grab bars installed. Not only in the bathroom but in the garage and porch as well. She went to the doctor and requested physical therapy due to vertigo, also ensuring strengthening and balance. She brought Seniors Helping Seniors in, scheduling three days a week for a few hours not only to help with tasks his wife normally handled, but for companionship as well. As we walked to the car, she told me she knew this was a “make it or break it” time for her dad. He would have to decide where to go from here. So far so good. Physical therapy is helping with the vertigo and our visits are helping with tasks and is companionship from someone who is close in age and actually lives in the same community.
Family # 2
The second family needed to leave just a few days after the funeral. Dad has mild dementia, but his wife covered well. It is common for out of town family not to realize that there is any dementia because mom and dad compensated so well together. They thought dad was just grieving. He was but combined with some cognitive impairment the odds were not in his favor. The day after everyone left, he drove into the garage door, went out shopping, then fell in the parking lot. After being bandaged up at the ER he managed to get home (a story in itself) and fall once again.
The neighbors notified the kids. They felt terrible. The keys were hidden, and Seniors Helping Seniors was called in. At the assessment we recommended grab bars and physical therapy. A team plan was created between the wife’s former caregiver, neighbors, friends, and SHS. Two visits in, Dad was not there. He gave the kids such a hard time that they told him where the keys were. They deemed him non-compliant and canceled services. We let the children know, we felt strongly he needed daily visits for meal preparation, safety, and companionship; he should not be driving until cleared by a doctor. Whether those visits were done by SHS or the other caregiver doesn’t matter, Dad needs help during this season.
What other recommendations?
In both cases I also recommended the Senior Behavioral Wellness program through Health First’s Aging Services. It’s designed just for these situations. Loosing someone who has been with you for 69 years must be extremely hard to process! I’ve had clients recommend the program, tough guys and gals who raved about going and getting their “life back” after a devastating loss. I’m not sure if the family brought it up after I left. I mailed a brochure to the house just in case.
Again, these real-life instances aren’t up for judgement, but for learning. What went right, where can improvements be made? And when that season comes in my life, what is the plan?