Death is a part of life, a transition we will all confront at some point. Anyone who has lived long enough will likely know the loss of friends and family, and grief can be a particularly emotional experience for seniors, especially if they’ve lost a spouse or another important family member. When a senior loved one loses someone close, he or she may be confronted with thoughts of their own mortality, may become depressed, or may even be reminded of other types of losses they’ve had to accept — loss of motor skills, a diminished memory, reduced independence, and so forth. In short, grief for our elders can be a complicated journey, so here, we’ll outline a few ways you can help them get through it.
Grief Is Universal — but Deeply Personal
The process of grief is such a personal one; the best way to help someone who is grieving is to listen, be empathetic, acknowledge the loss, and help your person experience the event at his or her own pace. Below are some other ways to acknowledge someone’s loss and help them process it.
- Spend time with them: This is perhaps the first, and best thing you can do. Our elders often feel lonely during even good times, so it’s important to recognize that they may have an increased need for companionship after the passing of a spouse or close friend. So, make time. Take them for a walk or out for coffee. Stop by the house to say hello. Hold your loved one’s hand and let them know you’re there. Simple gestures like these can go a very long way toward helping a senior feel equipped to deal with powerful emotions.
- Talk about the person they have lost: It’s important to acknowledge the loss of a person who meant something to your loved one. Just because someone has passed doesn’t mean the memory of that person is gone — in fact, it is usually quite the opposite. It can be extremely helpful to encourage them to talk about the person they’ve lost, to share stories about that person, and to find comfort in their memories. Talking about a loved one who has passed allows the living to feel their connection to that person, which can be extremely therapeutic and life-affirming.
- Allow sadness: Our culture tends to dismiss sadness as a negative emotion, one better left unfelt; but sadness has a very important role to play in our lives, and to feel it during the grieving process means we are recognizing and acknowledging loss — steps we must take in order to accept loss. It’s vital that you give your senior loved one the room to be sad, to let them cry or feel the pain of losing a spouse or a friend. When sadness is allowed to be, it does what it’s meant to do: heal.
- Watch for signs of depression: While sadness is a normal part of the grieving process, sometimes it can overcome a person and lead to depression, especially if a senior has suffered several losses close together (not unusual for someone in advanced age). Signs your loved one may be depressed include changes in appetite, irritability or restlessness, and lack of energy. If you think your loved one is suffering from depression, outside senior care services, like counseling, may be needed. Multiple losses can be overwhelming so it can be helpful to talk about each passing separately, allowing them to better cope with the emotions surrounding each one.
- Give them time: Ultimately, giving a senior loved one — or any loved one — time to grieve is essential for ultimately coming to terms with the loss. Often, seniors need more time to process their grief simply because they may have deeper connections to the person or people they’ve lost. No matter what the reasons are, giving your elder loved one the time and space to mourn is just another way of showing them you care.
It’s important to remember that grieving is a normal and healthy response to dramatic change, and while it can be difficult, there is real and meaningful value in working through it.
If you’d like to learn more about Senior Care Authority’s senior care services and all the ways in which we can help you and your senior loved one, reach out today.