Regardless of social status or age, race or wealth, everyone has to cope with grief and loss. Parents and grandparents get older and pass away, people move and can’t visit, friends are lost through time and distance. As seniors age and begin to lose an increasing number of friends and family members, they need support. It’s important to recognize grief and discuss how to successfully live with it.
The first thing to know and remember is that grief is normal. It can be exhibited in many ways, depending on the personality of the person who is grieving. The first year following a loss is the most painful. It’s a combination of learning how to become familiar with the absence of someone in life, while working through intense feelings of grief that often hit in waves.
For example, a person may be cooking breakfast, or hear a song that sparks memories, causing a wave of grief. Then those feelings subside and life continues. Grief should not be avoided and the grieving should not be encouraged to avoid the grieving process. It’s a natural process and it is important to walk through each stage of grief at one’s own pace.
Caregivers should pay special attention to seniors who may suffer adverse health effects due to grief. It’s typical for a change in appetite to accompany feelings of loss, but prolonged symptoms could be a sign of depression. Spend time with a senior as they move through their grief and be patient. Elders will appreciate the time that loved ones spend with them and they will appreciate the simple act of someone spending time with them.
Much of grief centers around the worry that the deceased will be forgotten. In an attempt to help deal with these feelings, it helps to flip through a photo album, or talk about favorite memories. This can be especially helpful during that first year, which will consist of many “firsts.” The first Christmas without that person, the first Thanksgiving, anniversary, or vacation. Emotions are raw at these times. Never forget that people need each other. The simple act of spending time with a senior can help them move through grief and is immensely supportive.
Patience. Understanding. Empathy. The understanding of a senior’s temperament is vital in helping them deal with grief, and loss. It can be difficult to comprehend what it feels like to lose a spouse, someone who’s been by a senior’s side for decades. It creates an overwhelming gap in their life, one that has suddenly opened up like a sinkhole. Caregivers can help seniors around these pitfalls of depression and to see that there is still a life worth living.