The loss of a spouse is an incredibly difficult process to bear. It’s compounded by the fact that it’s a partner, a best friend, and a lover who is gone. But what happens if the surviving spouse has Alzheimer’s? The grieving process can immediately become more complex.
Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help the surviving spouse. First, you should understand why this loss impacts that person harder than it can others.
Why This Loss Is Bigger
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia. It affects your mind and plays havoc with your memory, thinking, decision-making, and behavior. It also really complicates matters when someone with Alzheimer’s loses their spouse. Here are some of the problems that can come up in these situations:
- First, know that everyone grieves differently and for different lengths of time. That means there will be some variation in how someone with Alzheimer’s will react.
- Because this disorder affects memory, expect that the survivor may not remember their spouse has passed away.
- Even if they remember, they may not grasp what the death means. They could just assume the person has gone away and will return, or that the loss is not significant.
All of this becomes more problematic when the spouse was the primary caregiver. Not only has the surviving spouse with Alzheimer’s someone they love, they lost the person who took care of them.
How You Can Help
So how can you help the surviving spouse? The Alzheimer’s Society has several ways you can offer support that almost anyone can provide:
- Make sure you explain the death and that the deceased is gone. Don’t try to “soften the blow” or otherwise hide the truth. Although it will hurt, you need to explain what happened. This can help the person with Alzheimer’s get through the grieving process.
- Because they have this condition, they might forget about the death. Keep reminders of the funeral on hand to lend credibility to the story as you retell it. Be patient, and again, let them process their feelings.
- Encourage the person to find creative outlets like art and music. Not only can this help them find some joy in the mourning period, it can be a great way to express their feelings.
If the spouse was the primary caregiver, you also need to find a replacement. The Alzheimer’s Association has great advice in finding a new caregiver, including how to screen for one that will best fit. Make sure they have training, experience, and can provide proof of a background check.
Going Through The Deceased’s Belongings
Once surviving spouse has accepted the death (at least for now) and you have a new caregiver, you have to move onto what could be a rough task: sorting through the belongings of the deceased. This can be stressful for everyone involved. Before you go through anything, consider the four Ps:
- Participants: Can you get through this by yourself or will you need help? It might be best to leave the person with Alzheimer’s out of this process.
- People: If the person is not going to be sorting through the belongings with you, ask them ahead of time if there’s anything special they want to be saved.
- Plan: Decide if any items have particular urgency, like bills or the garage. Then list which rooms or items you’ll sort through first.
- Pace: Don’t try to do everything in one day or weekend. Pace yourself by doing some each day for a while.
They Can Get Through With Your Help
Getting over the loss of a spouse takes time. Until then, things can be difficult to manage, especially for someone who has Alzheimer’s. That’s why your support is so necessary.
By recognizing the difficulties, making sure your loved one understands their spouse passed away, and helping to sort through the belongings of the deceased, you can provide a stable and comforting presence.