“Grief is like the ocean, it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All one can do is learn to swim” – Vicki Harrison
Loss and grief are two inescapable emotions that humans must experience at some point in their lives. The ability to cope with these emotions varies in accordance with the different stages of a person’s life.
However, studies state that experiencing loss and grief towards the later stage of life can be very difficult to cope with as it impacts one’s mental health greatly, causing a downward spiral that is very hard to break.
Health problems, lack of independence, lack of agility, retirement and busy adult children are factors that accompany advanced age. The major form of a support system at this stage is one’s spouse, friends or pet. Loss of any one of these support systems can lead to extreme loneliness thereby immensely increasing one’s grief.
Studies also state that loss and grief can have a devastating impact on the immune system of seniors, explaining why many elderly people die quickly soon after the loss of their loved ones.
Loneliness is one of the major causes of depression and poor health in the elderly. The other factor is the stress of living alone. The loss of a spouse or a loved one leads to the entire burden of both household chores and outside tasks falling completely on the shoulders of the surviving partner. This often leads to despair, a sense of helplessness, and resentment. Unsuitable coping with grief manifests itself in the following physical and emotional ways in the elderly:
- Crying often
- Being unreactive to people around and showing disinterest in day-to-day activities
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
- Guilt on being alive
- Displaying anger towards the deceased spouse or friend for leaving them
- Locking oneself in the house and being homebound for a long time
- Neglecting one’s appearance and hygiene
- Problems concentrating on a task
How To Help During Loss
When the above-mentioned behaviors are noticed in a parent or an elderly relative it is important that immediate action is taken in order to help them cope with their loss. Here are some ways you can help your loved one during his/her grieving period:
- Avoiding major changes like selling their house or enrolling them in senior care living.
- Visiting them often as a family.
- Encouraging them to eat healthily and sleep well. Stocking their fridge with some healthy dishes can be a helpful gesture. Also, having meals with them will enable you to make sure that the senior person is eating something.
- Encouraging them to take their medicines and if possible accompanying them to their doctor’s visit.
- Encouraging them to volunteer and spend their time with others, it can be volunteering at church or a school or a bake sale. Being busy is a very effective remedy for lonely hearts.
- If they are physically fit, encouraging them to take up a part time job.
- Encouraging them to help you or others by offering to babysit or sew or knit. As helping others eases loneliness.
- Encouraging them to be part of the senior groups and exercise at the YMCA can also be very helpful for them.
- Rekindling old ties with other family members and friends may also help them overcome their feelings of grief.
- Encouraging the senior to indulge in what they love the most i.e. reading, writing, or sewing etc. can gradually help them overcome their grief.
- Mealtimes can be very hard on those who are grieving, encouraging seniors to have a meal at a senior center or with a friend or a family member can be helpful. Sometimes, listening to music or watching television while eating may also help.
- Encouraging the senior to join a grief support group at a church or a hospital.
- Having a memorial or a ceremony in the memory of the deceased can also help them attain closure.