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Learning to Heal: The Grieving Process and Aging

There is no grief like the grief that does not speak. –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 Losing someone you love can be deeply painful, impacting your physical health, your other relationships, even your ability to function. As difficult as it is to mourn and adjust to a loss, most people find ways to cope and move on with their lives as best they can. The grieving process can be especially devastating for the older generation because the sense of loss triggers the pain of other losses at a time in life when there may be less distraction or motivation. If you or someone you love is dealing with grief, you may find some relief from your emotional pain with coping strategies that allow for reflection and mourning while maintaining your purpose and ability to function.

What Makes Aging and Grief Different?

 The five stages of grief as proposed by Kubler-Ross are more or less the same for every generation: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Older people can be more likely to get stuck in one of these stages because their coping techniques may not be enough to handle the emotional stress of loss when paired with diminishing abilities, health issues, or other unaddressed needs.

The post-retirement time of life is less about planning for the future and more about making the most of each moment. When an older person loses a loved one, he or she may focus not only on sorrow but also on personal mortality. With these troubling thoughts comes the possibility of spiraling into a dark place, past sadness into depression. As more close friends pass away, an elderly person may feel an additional loss of support as well as a reluctance to turn to adult children to avoid being seen as a burden.

Is There a Better Way to Grieve?

 The grieving process is personal, and everyone does it differently. It is important to remember that a loss is an event, but mourning is a process. If you have lost someone important to you, you can and should make time to grieve and feel your emotions as they arise. Other things you can do to grieve in a healthy way are:

Another constructive approach to aging and grief is to honor the people you have lost and remember how you loved them. By focusing on happier times, you can give meaning to your loss in a way that helps you heal.  Some positive strategies for grieving include:

  •  Write a letter to the deceased, sharing stories or explaining what their passing means to you
  • Put together a photo album of pictures to treasure and focus on happier times
  • Create a memorial of special objects and keepsakes that inspire positive memories

How Can You Help?

 If an older person you know is mourning and you want to help, you have options to show you care that can benefit both of you. Be that shoulder to cry on and that ear to listen. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, and be understanding and patient. Older people may suffer physical symptoms, confusion, or memory problems while in mourning, and you want to be considerate of their situation. Offer to help in concrete ways, such as running errands, helping pay bills, or sharing meals, until they feel up to doing those things for themselves.

Galloway Ridge at Fearrington is your community in happy and sad times. We strive to create an environment that benefits our residents in all aspects of their golden years. Our multi-faceted approach to total well-being and enrichment provides an atmosphere of warmth and support as we journey through life together. If you would like to contact us for additional resources for aging and grief, please give us a call.