Coping with the death of a spouse is never easy at any age, but the loss can be especially difficult for those in their golden years.

Brenda Zahnley, director of bereavement services at Christy-Smith Funeral Home, said the spouse left behind may face economical, environmental and social changes while going through the grieving process.

She explained that surviving spouse may need to find a new mode of transportation if the partner did the driving.

The death of a spouse can also mean the loss of an income.

"A big part of them dies when their spouse dies," Zahnley said. "Some of them met when they were 15, 16 years old, and they've been married for a long period of time. That's a real lifestyle change."

After spending 40, 50 or 60 years with a significant other, feelings of loneliness and loss can overwhelm the surviving spouse.

"It's trying to readjust and reengage in life again," Zahnley said. "They have to figure out, 'Who am I?' and 'How am I going to move forward in my life again?'"

FEELINGS ARE NORMAL

Feeling depressed, empty, shocked and angry are normal feelings associated with the loss of a spouse, Zahnley said.

Some people may wonder how they're going to go on without their spouse or find purpose in their lives again.

A strong faith and a support system -- someone they can talk with about their late husband or wife -- are key in moving forward, according to Zahnley.

Sometimes, she said, adult children won't mention a deceased parent's name because they don't want their mother or father to feel bad.

"That's the worst thing they could do," she said. "The person needs to talk about it. They need to reminisce. They need to acknowledge the pain."

PROGRAM HELPS

Christy-Smith offers "A Step Beyond," an upbeat, social support group that Zahnley said tries to help people move beyond the raw pain, live again and find laughter in their lives.

The median age of participants is 75 years old. Some have recently lost a spouse, while others have been widowed for more than a year.

"They might feel like, 'All I do is cry, so I don't want to be in a group. I'm embarrassed,'" Zahnley said. "It might take them a while to join our group, but it's open any time they want to come."

"A Step Beyond" meets the second Tuesday of each month at 3:30 p.m. from October to April and at 6:30 p.m. from May to September at the Christy-Smith Family Resource Center, 1819 Morningside Ave.

A similar group called "Grief Relief" meets at the McCulloch Chapel in Moville on the third Wednesday of each month from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Zahnley presents a 30-minute program at each meeting. Participants express their thoughts in small groups and gather for coffee and fellowship afterward.

"That just gives people an opportunity to share and connect," Zahnley said. "It's very non-threatening. We don't ask them to tell their story. We always acknowledge the new people and welcome them."

The Christy-Smith Family Resource Center also has an extensive grief library to help people understand the grieving process. Books can be checked out or purchased.