In the later stage of our lives we face a completely new set of challenges that we may or may not be prepared for. Many of us will experience loss in our lives. Loss of peers and friends who pass away, loved ones, parents, aunts, uncles and family friends. We’ll experience the loss of an entire generation of people that were influential in our young lives. While it’s to be expected with the passing of time, it’s never easy. Death of a close friend or family member also gets us thinking about the amount of time we ourselves may have left and gets us looking at our own mortality. Looking back on our lives to see what we will be leaving behind when we pass away. Having your loving partner beside you can help get you through these trying times. You will need each other’s love and support more than ever.
Loss of a parent
This stage of life puts us into a complete role reversal with our aging parents. Many of us have to take over the role of caregiver, make end of life care decisions for our parents and sadly, even watch as they shrink and disappear into themselves with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Caring for your parent at the end of their life can be a bittersweet experience, stressful and joyful both. Encourage your spouse to spend time with their aging parent when possible and to tell them anything that may be bothering them or on their minds. Leaving unresolved issues leads to terrible regret later on.
When your aging parents die it can bring up some very deep emotions. Not many of us are truly prepared for this event, even if we think we are. Mentally, we might think we are expecting it, but emotionally it’s a gut punch. When it happens we’re blindsided and bereft. We feel like there is a huge hole left in the world. We want our Mommy or Daddy with an intensity that we didn’t know we were even capable off.
The realization that that person that loved and nurtured, and sometimes frustrated us, but the one who was a constant in our lives is now gone is heart-rending. We need the unflagging support of our partners at this difficult time. We’re feeling alone, like an orphan. We need to know our partner is there for us. You might not even think yourself capable of the level of grief experienced at the loss of a parent. It’s one of the most significant events of your adult life. It’s a terrible adjustment to have to make. Not being able to call or visit them, to see them, to hear their voice again. Made worse if it happens suddenly and you’re left with issues unresolved in the relationship with your parent or have regrets about things left unsaid or unresolved between you.
Be aware that your spouse might not want to talk about their feelings right away. You’ll need to give them space to process their feelings. Give them alone time when they want to shut themselves away. Understand that it’s going to take some time for this wound to heal. Make yourself available to hold them, cry with them, be there for them even if it’s just sitting there with your physical presence to comfort them.
Don’t push the timeline of grieving, it’s different for everyone. Understand that you will be grieving too if this an in-law you’ve had a relationship/friendship with, but do your best to show support for your spouse, understanding that his or her grief runs very, very deep. It may be too hard for them to go sort through their Father’s belongings so they’ll delay that difficult task until they feel strong enough to cope.
Grief often causes inertia. Your spouse might turn into someone you don’t recognize for a time. They may withdraw into themselves or be unable to comfort your children or a surviving parent. Be patient, stay present with them. Do what you can to take up the slack.
One of the things you can do is to take responsibility to make sure that important details aren’t overlooked such as notifying friends and family, or ordering copies of the death certificate, contacting the attorney etc., practical things that need to be done. This will ease the burden for your partner.
Loss of family
Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children but it does happen. Our children die of accidents, health issues, and a myriad of other reasons. This is a terrible blow to the family. Marriages have ended due to the impact of this type of loss.
When you outlive your children you carry something with you that set you apart from other parents. You and your spouse need to stay connected and strong in your communication and look to each other to survive this kind of trauma in your lives. You have to be extraordinarily kind and loving to one another and remember that while your loved one is gone, you both are still here. Try not to place blame or play “what if?” This only injures your relationship further.
There will often be guilt associated with this kind of loss. Do your best to look ahead and not to live in the past. Life goes on, the sun comes up tomorrow and you may have other children that need your comfort and care. Understand that they’re grieving too. Focus on what your family needs and try not to focus 100% on the loss.
It takes a special kind of bravery to carry on after a loss such as the death of a child, but grieving together and helping one another is the best way to make it through. Your partner will be the only other person who truly understands what you’re going through. This tragedy creates a special kind of bond of understanding that only you share. Try to stay open to communication with your partner about what they feel and need, and they can do the same for you.
There are stages of grieving, and you both won’t necessarily be sharing them at the same time. You might be in denial, while your spouse is angry and might be acting out. Understand that you both have to go through each stage of grief on your own terms. It may seem like too much to bear at times. That’s when you need to reach out to one another and help and support each other through the pain.
Moving on is hard, and it falls to one or the other partner sometimes to be the catalyst for that. Your partner may not want to move on. They may still be so wounded, so hurt that they don’t want to face the future without their loved one. Encourage closure rituals, memorial services, celebrations of life, scattering ashes, planting trees or whatever your partner needs to close that chapter and move on in life after the loss of a parent or elder. Celebrate the good things about the person you lost and cherish those memories in whatever way you need to memorialize that person and begin to let go of the pain. It does get easier and over time the pain can be lessened. It never really goes away but you do begin to remember that loved one with a smile or a laugh or a feeling of happiness .The sadness eases. You and your spouse can begin to look ahead to the future and your new normal without that person in your life.