One of the worst things that can happen in your life is losing your spouse. The death of a loved one and partner of so many years is traumatic. It leaves a huge, empty space in your life. So when someone with Alzheimer’s loses their spouse, the result is understandably chaotic and painful.
Thankfully, there are ways you can help your friend with Alzheimer’s. But before you can help, you need to know what’s normal and healthy in the grieving process.
What Counts As Healthy Grieving
Because losing a spouse is so traumatic, it’s normal for someone to feel anger, bitterness, and even depression. In fact, negative emotions are healthy and need to be experienced while grieving. It helps people come to terms with their loss.
The Huffington Post lists 11 healthy ways to grieve. You can read the list to understand what can be healthy from your grieving friend, but here are three important ones:
Keeping the deceased’s belongings for a while: There’s no rush to purge the home of reminders. Let this happen when it feels right.
Making a small, in-home memorial: This activity can bring closure when it’s needed. It can even spark “conversations” with the deceased to ease the loss.
Don’t put a time limit on pain: Everyone grieves differently, so let your friend experience their emotions as they come.
Because grieving is stressful, it can also lead to some physical problems. It’s normal for someone grieving the loss of their spouse to sleep too much, have muscle tension, headaches, or upset stomach.
Alzheimer’s Brings Different Challenges
All these different ways to grieve can turn problematic if they do not get better over time. If depression remains intense and constant after six months or so, your friend may need help. However, this gets more complicated when your friend has Alzheimer’s.
One of the biggest complications with this disorder is memory loss. Since people suffering from Alzheimer’s can easily forget important things, your friend might not remember that their spouse passed away. That means you may have to explain the death more than once.
Even if they don’t quite comprehend the loss, they can still show signs of grief and bereavement. That’s because they can still feel the impact; they just don’t fully understand why they feel that way.
Specific Ways You Can Help Them
You want to help your friend through the grieving process, but the Alzheimer’s is making things difficult. HomeAid Health Care lists a few ways you can help your friend grieve:
Don’t overemphasize public events like funerals and wakes. Going to the funeral is important, but private visitations and events can be more helpful to someone with Alzheimer’s.
Reminisce with your friend about their spouse. Encourage them to talk positively about the deceased instead of trying to avoid things. This can help the loss become real.
Keep something nearby that reminds your friend of the passing, such as a small memorial described above. This can help trigger memories of the passing so your friend with Alzheimer’s can remember on their own.
Also, discourage your friend from making any big changes. This is a good idea for anyone who’s grieving, but it’s especially important for anyone suffering from Alzheimer’s. They’re already facing a huge and sometimes confusing change. Adding something like moving to a new home can be too much to handle right now.
Your Help Is Needed
A person with Alzheimer’s deserves some support. When they lose their spouse, that support becomes necessary. But it’s something you can handle. Keep in mind that negative emotions like anger and depression are normal and even healthy. Do what you can to help your friend remember the death and accept it, but let them process the loss in their own way.
Michael Longsdon is the creator of ElderFreedom.net, which advocates for the rights and support of seniors.