We are honored to share a very special guest blog with you today. Jim Vogel started ElderAction.org as a means to provide resources to adult children and caregivers who are caring for senior parents. He is passionate about spreading awareness to improve senior living.
The Best Way for Caregivers to Help Loved Ones After the Loss of a Spouse - by Jim Vogel
When you provide care to a loved one who loses a spouse, it is challenging to help her through her grief. The challenges compound when it is time for her to downsize after the loss. To make the conversation about moving into a smaller, more appropriate home easier, focus on the advantages of downsizing and help her through the transition.
1. Be Compassionate
Everyone grieves differently, and you need to be patient, understanding, and compassionate with your loved one after she or loses her spouse. Do not discuss downsizing too soon after the loss, because he she will not be able to handle making a significant life change immediately after her spouse dies.
Have compassion, acknowledge her feelings, and give her time to grieve in her own way. When she becomes overwhelmed, comfort her. You’ll know when she is ready to discuss downsizing.
2. Focus on the Positive
As your loved one moves through her grief and is ready to discuss her next steps, discuss downsizing with her. She may already claim that the house is too big for her, that it’s too much work, or that it reminds her too much of her spouse. These moments are your opportunity to discuss downsizing as a solution.
If, however, your loved one is not thinking about downsizing, approach the topic by offering to help with tasks and making suggestions about how to make her life easier. When you discuss the advantages of downsizing, mention that “having fewer financial- and maintenance-related responsibilities will allow you to focus more on your happiness and less on your home.”
Your loved one spends too much to maintain a home that is too large for her, and she spends too much time cleaning and taking care of it. Seniors spend more on utility bills, maintenance, and repairs for their older, larger homes than they would on a newer home that is better suited to their needs.
If her home is paid off, selling it will give her more than enough money to move to a comfortable setting, such as a one-story ranch home or a condominium. She’d also have enough money to modify the home to suit her lifestyle, so she could design the kitchen of her dreams, add a sunroom, or make other accommodations that she did not have in her former home. She also can choose a neighborhood that is close to shopping centers, a park, or family members.
Seniors who choose to downsize to a retirement community reap the benefits of having a comfortable place to live that maximizes their independence while providing meals, entertainment, outings, cleaning and laundry services, and other amenities to help them enjoy life to the fullest.
Seniors who lost a spouse find that a retirement community prevents them from becoming isolated and depressed because there are so many friends living nearby. The social connections stave off loneliness and help seniors cope. Seniors also have more time to participate in activities because the community takes care of home repair and maintenance for them.
3. Help Your Loved One Through the Downsizing Process
Even if your loved one looks forward to downsizing, moving will be difficult for her. She is letting go of a lifetime of memories and a home where she raised her children and loved her spouse. It will be difficult for her to part with items that have sentimental value, so give her plenty of time to sort her belongings and reminisce with you while doing so. Invite other family members to help with the process so you can share memories together and to give your loved one the opportunity to give items to her loved ones.
Then, work with her to decide what to throw away, donate, and take with her to her new home. Encourage her not to keep duplicates of items and to get rid of those that she has not used for a year. Help her choose meaningful keepsakes and store them in a safe place until moving day.
Losing a spouse and downsizing are two difficult life events for your loved one. As her caretaker, you need to be patient and compassionate and then help her focus on the advantages of downsizing and the process of sorting her belongings when she is ready.
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