Dear Family Advisor
One year after my wife died, things aren't getting slowly better. I'm worse.
Last updated:April 13, 2010
My wife died of dementia and heart complications a little over a year ago. I'm 80 and in relatively good health. We'd talked about the situation ahead of time, and my wife urged me to sell, move on with my life -- even remarry -- but so far I can't seem to do anything. I was her caregiver for so long that I just feel lost now.
I fumble around in our big house and know I need to move somewhere more manageable and deal with her belongings. My daughter in Texas and son in San Diego both want me to move closer, but I'm not sure I want to become such a big part of their lives -- not that I'm having much of one of my own.
I thought I wanted to stay here, close to our church and friends, but everything reminds me of my wife. I miss her at every turn. She was the planner; I called her my entertainment committee. How do I decide what to do -- and more important, find joy again?
Grief is different for everyone. You don't slowly get better at a specific rate, so there's no "right" amount of time to grieve, and no cutoff date when (if ever) you should stop grieving.
You'll have good days and really bad days -- times when you feel numb and lost, and times when you feel antsy and impatient. You just have to accept the emotions as they come, feel them, then step aside and allow them to pass.
It's good that you recognize that it may be time to think about a new place to live. It can be hard to move on with your life when everywhere you turn reminds you of a time that's passed. A dear friend of mine who lost her husband said it best: "You have to hold those memories close to your heart, but there comes a time to make new memories."
We tend to freeze when it comes to big decisions because it feels like we'll mess things up if we don't make the "perfect" choice. Don't be afraid to make a mistake. You might want to consider renting for a while at the various locations you're considering, including near your son or daughter, to see what you think of them.
Do plan to "age in place" -- meaning, get a condo or apartment where you don't necessarily need a car and are close to things you enjoy and need (maybe a park, for instance, and a good grocery store). That way, when the time comes that you aren't able to drive, you'll be able to stay as independent as possible. You might even want to consider a community specially designed for aging in place.
As far as your social life, check out newcomers' groups when you move. Many communities have a smorgasbord of organized activities, and you may find a thriving community where you fit in well.
If one thing that's keeping you from moving is feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with your home and possessions, fly up one of your children or a friend to help you [organize the move] (https://www.caring.com/articles/organizing-move-guide) and go through everything -- or consider hiring a senior move manager if you can afford it.
We can get lost in our keepsakes and feel that we're betraying our loved one if we move on. We're not -- it's often a necessary step. Get through this process quickly. Anything sentimental you think you might want to keep or your children might want, put in storage or give to them. Keep moving and create momentum.
If you're grappling with grief in such a way that you can't sleep, sleep all the time, have lost weight, don't do the everyday errands and chores you've always done, or avoid friends, you may also be dealing with depression. Talk to your doctor and see if he recommends a short-term mild anti-depressant. What may also help: talk therapy, talking with your clergy or other spiritual advisor, and joining a spousal bereavement group.
Tackle your sorrow as you would any health issue -- get the help you need and then get on with your life. Our brains love stimulus, and a new environment may really perk you up.
You're a healthy, intelligent, vibrant man. Find a place where you can create a new life you enjoy, preferably somewhat close to family. This isn't the time to simply please them, but we need them and they need us. They don't have to be your whole life -- you don't need to see them so often you become one of the "kids" at the dinner table. What feels best for you will probably turn out to be best for all.
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