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Death of a Spouse: How to Care for Ageing Parents

Losing a parent is hard, but harder still for your surviving parent, who must now face life alone after many years as a partnership. Your surviving parent is likely to be overwhelmed by feelings of grief and loss and will need huge amounts of understanding and sympathy over the coming weeks, months and years.

The loss of a life partner

When a couple has lived together for decades and raised a family together, the loss of a partner can bring a level of grief which seems insurmountable.

Everyone copes differently with the loss of a loved one, but be wary if your surviving parent appears to be coping admirably. They are likely to be putting on a brave front and could be quietly grieving deeply the moment that your back is turned.

Your surviving parent is likely to want to talk about their loss, so don’t try to prevent them from doing so. Sometimes people need to go over and over the same ground to come to terms with a death. Allow their grief to go where it wants to, and provide a sympathetic and supportive shoulder to cry on.

Arranging the legalities

You may need to take charge of the administration if your mother or father is too grief-stricken to be able to cope with the planning. You will need a copy of the Death Certificate, signed by a doctor, and you will need to arrange a funeral, along with either burial or cremation.

Even if your remaining parent would like you to take over all the associated duties, try to involve them in the arrangements. It will help to focus their mind, and ensure that their loved one’s final wishes are adhered to as closely as possible.

Keep a watchful eye on your surviving parent

When someone is used to being part of a couple, the loss of a spouse can leave them feeling that nothing is worth bothering about anymore. You could find that your parent neglects cleanliness, nutrition and health, so visit regularly and make sure that there is evidence that your parent is maintaining good personal hygiene.

Is there food in the fridge and are there signs of recent meals? Have the bath, washbasin and shower been used recently? Is there fresh bedding, towels and laundry?

Most long-term relationships rely on dividing household tasks, so you need to establish whether your surviving parent has problems with any aspects of day-to-day living.

For example, your mother might never have had to manage finances before, or your father may not know how to cook a meal or do the laundry. Bear in mind that older generations are not always skilled at voicing their vulnerabilities, so you may need to do a little detective work to find out whether or not they are coping adequately.

Dulcie’s Care Story

In this short video, Mary and Colin explain how Dulcie’s live-in Elder carer, Sarah, has become part of the family.

They discuss how live-in care has allowed Dulcie to stay independent in her own home, while making a new friend at the same time.

Keep busy

Everyone needs to spend time grieving, but it’s important to try to enjoy life too. Your parent may not feel like socialising, and they might need a fair bit of encouragement to leave the house, but getting out and about is a major step in coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

Take time to take your parent shopping, or out for lunch, or for coffee. Encourage them to attend social events and catch up with friends and family. Perhaps you could persuade your loved one to join a volunteer group or work for a charity for one or two days a week.

Many older people who lose a partner find that help is plentiful in the early days, but that it tapers off after a few weeks. Keep an eye on your parent and increase your visits or phone calls around this time, to reassure them that they are not forgotten.

When the surviving parent needs care

Many elderly couples act as each other’s carers, and the loss of a spouse can seem disastrous to the surviving partner. On top of the grief, there is then the added problem of potentially selling the much-loved and familiar family home, and moving into residential care. This can be a distressing prospect.

It might help to look at some of the alternatives that private care companies can provide. Private live-in care matches a caregiver to your surviving parent, to ensure a good and companionable match.

Care workers are highly trained in elderly care at home, with some employees also trained in Alzheimer’s care and dementia care.

With 24/7 live-in home care, the caregiver becomes something of an honorary family member, as well as a friend and companion, enabling your parent to continue with independent living, while benefitting from high-quality in-home care.

A live-in carer will help your parent with dressing, bathing, toileting, days out, activities, social events and can even cook and serve nutritious meals too. The constant companionship can be hugely beneficial to anyone suffering the loss of a much-loved spouse.

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