Grief and Older People

78 year-old Mary lost her husband of 55 years this past January. Ever since then she has not been her normal self. She cries frequently. She has lost a lot of weight. Her friends are supportive. However, they only visit about once a week. Her family rarely stop by.

Alice, John’s wife, died in January. He is 72 and a typical man. When anyone asks, he tells them he’s doing fine. However, Alice’s loss is tearing him apart on the inside. He can’t sleep. There is a constant pain in his stomach. He always feels isolated and alone.

At some point in each of our lives, we are all going to experience grief. There is no way to avoid it. Most frequently, grief comes after the loss of a loved one. It could be a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a son or daughter, a relative or friend.

At times that loss will be sudden and unexpected. At other times, we may know far in advance of when the loss will occur.

Much has been written about grief and what people can experience.

However, No One Can Predict What Grief Will be Like for Anyone

Each of us may react in different ways. We also can react differently to each loss we experience.

In her book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross indicated there are five stages of grief. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. All people don’t experience each of these stages They also may not go through each in that order.

One person can go from depression to denial. Another may go from anger to depression.

We may have seen how our parents and relatives grieved and handled it the same way. Seeing how friends and neighbors handled it may have impacted us. All those in our ethnic group may handle grief in a certain way and we may do the same.

Even men and women tend to experience grief differently. Women tend to express grief through their feelings while men try to think their way through it.

Another Variable is When a Person Starts to Grieve

One may start to grieve a loss immediately when it occurs. Another may not start to grieve until weeks or months later. A person may even start to grieve at different times for different losses. For one loss, the process may start immediately. For another loss, it may not start until later.

It has also been found . . .

. . . Older People Experience Grief Differently Than Others

Serious harm can occur to a person 65 and older following the loss of a loved one. There can be a devastating impact on their immune systems. Present thinking is this may be the reason some older people die shortly after their spouses.

Grief is also more severe for people living in nursing homes and senior centers.

If you are experiencing grief, realize that this is normal. You have lost someone significant in your life. It’s acceptable to miss the relationship you had with them and the things you did together. You will never replace that.

Remember the five stages of grief. You may experience each one or you may miss some. At a point, you will reach acceptance. At that point, you will still have all of your fond memories of the person you lost, the things you did together and your relationship with them. You can look back at these and be grateful. However, you will no longer be grieving their loss.

Here are Certain Things to Do While Grieving

  • Make sure to eat properly, exercise regularly and take your medicines. You may say why should I exercise when I didn’t before. In addition to being good for you, it enables you to meet and be with other people. If you do nothing else, get out for a walk. Talk to the people you see.
  • Don’t isolate yourself when you are when grieving. Have meals with friends. Do things to stay busy. Go to movies or special events. Volunteer in the community. The Office on Aging works with many non-profit agencies which are always looking for volunteers. You may even want to get a pet to keep you company.
  • If you would benefit by talking to others who are also experiencing grief, there are many grief support groups in the area. The Office on Aging, the local senior centers and even your church can help you find one.
  • Here are Some Ways to Assist a Loved One,
    Friend or Neighbor Who is Grieving:
  • Make it a point to visit them regularly, even if they tell you it’s not necessary. Anything you can do to eliminate the amount of "alone" time they have will help.
  • One problem adult children have is they are there for their mom or dad right after the death of their other parent. Everything seems to be going okay and they stop dropping by. 4 to 6 weeks later the grief process starts and the surviving parent doesn’t let their children know. It’s at this time they really need support. So – continue to visit your surviving parent on a regular basis.
  • When you are with a grieving person, be there to listen to them. Let them talk. Have them tell you how they are doing and what they are feeling. Men have a problem here. They just want to give the answers to the person who is grieving. When they do that, the grieving person shuts down.
  • Enjoy a meal with them. Take them out for one or bring a meal to them. You can also make one at their home. Meal time can be tough for a grieving person because that was when they frequently spent quality time with their loved one who is gone.
  • Offer to help them. Take them to the grocery store or pick up groceries for them. If they have a doctor’s appointment, offer to drive them. Pick up their medications for them. Even help them with chores around their home.
  • Do special things with them. Go to a movie or a local event. Even stroll around a mall or shopping plaza.

When you are with them, monitor them to see if their grief is turning into depression. Typically, grief is short term whereas depression can last quite awhile. If you believe they’re becoming depressed, urge them to see their doctor. If they don’t, talk to their doctor yourself.

Final Thoughts

There is no shame in grieving. If you are grieving, allow yourself to experience it. It’s a cleansing time for you. Holding it in and covering it up will lead to other physical ailments for you.

If you see someone grieving, support them at this time in their lives. Showing them you care and are not going to discount them for what they are feeling means more to them than you will ever know. Although they may not express it, they will truly appreciate you for your support at this critical time in their life.