Promoting Senior Wellness Through the Spouse-Loss Journey

Guest post submitted by Teresa Greenhill.


Grieving the Loss of a Spouse

When a person loses the one they shared their life with, that life will never be the same. Suddenly the partnership they spent so much time investing in is over. Figuring out what life will look like going forward after the death of a spouse is a harrowing journey. If the person was also a caregiver to the newly departed, the loss can bring even more complicated emotions.

This loss can be even more difficult if it is complicated by things such as addiction. The growing epidemic in the United States kills 115 people every day– many of them husbands, wives, and life partners. Losing someone after watching them struggle with addiction as they constantly play with their own mortality elicits many emotions. It can be difficult to come to terms with feelings of loss and sadness coupled with exhaustion and relief.

While some people adhere to the typical five stages of grieving, experts recognize that grief is a personal process that no two people experience in quite the same way. However an individual experiences grief, it’s important they be proactive in taking care of themselves. The best way a person can do that is to allow themselves to feel what they are feeling and to listen to what their bodies are telling them.

Seniors, Grief, and Illness

The loss of a spouse is one of the most stressful life events that can happen to a person. Considering life expectancy in the United States averages 76 years for men and 81 years for women, spousal loss sadly becomes more common with each passing year. Even more unfortunate is how death of a spouse can physically affect the person they leave behind.

As it turns out, grief can make older people sick– and there is even science to back it up. Studies have found that people experiencing a significant loss in their life become more susceptible to infection as their neutrophils (a type of white blood cell that fights bacteria and viruses) lose function. Researchers also found that people experience an increased risk of stroke and heart attack as their sympathetic nervous system weakens from stress. All of these post-grief risks and issues put seniors’ wellness and lives at risk.

Helping Seniors Protect their Health after the Loss of a Spouse

After a major loss, it is typical for people to feel depressed. Depression affects people in many ways, but perhaps one of the most dangerous ways is how it de-motivates people from taking care of themselves. It’s important for a senior, during this crucial time, to have emotional support and someone monitoring their physical health. Doing so may help save their life.

  • Make sure they are eating– loss of appetite is a common symptom of grief. Take them out to their favorite restaurants or help them cook dishes they love. Many people associate meal times with spending time with those they love, so it can be difficult facing that on one’s own after the loss of a spouse.
  • As married couples typically split household duties, find creative ways to help out with things their spouse used to do. For instance, if the deceased husband used to mow the lawn, pay a neighborhood kid who will drop by every week to do it going forward.
  • You may not be able to understand what they are going through, but you can help them find a support system that does. Counseling after death can be a huge boost for mental as well as physical health. Look into group support meetings at their church or a community center. Or consider a special grief counselor that they can talk to one-on-one.

The loss of a spouse completely transforms lives. Grief is so powerful, it can even affect a person’s health– especially seniors. To support and protect seniors during this difficult time, it’s important to be there for them. Join them for meals, help with tasks around the house, and encourage them to find support in either group or one-on-one counseling.


For further reading on the topic visit the Centers for Disease Control or Time online.