The more candles on your birthday cake each year, the more you get to see and do in life—and unfortunately, the more likely you will experience the death of someone you love. National Grief Awareness Day is this month, highlighting the many ways of coping with grief, as well as how to support parents and elder loved ones as they face loss, and how a move to senior living could benefit their physical and emotional health.
What is grief awareness and why is it important?
The loss of someone close is an inevitable occurrence for just about everyone. Unfortunately for many older adults, coping with grief is something that they often feel they must do alone. This is often due to the previous generation’s mindset that they should “tough things out” and not complain.
According to the Center for Grief and Trauma Therapy, “Society tends to ignore the multiple and dynamic losses of older people, almost as though we expect them to get used to loss and not experience grief as intensely as someone younger with less experience with loss and death.” But loss is painful and difficult no matter your age.
And when considering coping with grief, it is just as important for an adult child to not lose sight of their needs. Losing a parent can make you take stock of your life and your relationships, and awaken emotional issues you have not yet reconciled. So regardless of age, losing a parent can bring up feelings of being abandoned or suddenly on your own. It’s a shift in identity that can change how you see the world.
Acknowledging loss and coping with grief:
- Loss is part of the human experience.
- Loss provides an opportunity to appreciate having had a particular person in our lives.
- While there are stages of grief, not everyone goes through all of them; some may pass through a stage multiple times, and each person moves through grief in his or her own way.
- There is no expiration date on grief. It takes what it takes.
- Any kind of loss can be painful, whether a spouse, parent, friend, pet, relative or casual acquaintance.
- Grief can affect us in many ways, such as forgetfulness, fatigue, sudden bouts of sadness, problems sleeping, confusion, lack of appetite.
- It’s okay to not be okay. There are no rules.
Recognizing the signs of grief
Losing a spouse or friend you’ve had for what seems like a lifetime is a huge loss. In addition, your brain has to work hard coping with grief, so it isn’t as efficient at keeping you healthy, especially if there are underlying or old injuries. Here are some normal signs and symptoms that a person coping with grief may face:
• Shock. It can be hard to accept that someone has died. A person can even refuse initially to inform anyone, because they so want it to not be true. And even once the truth is accepted, someone coping with grief might still expect their late spouse to show up.
• Sadness. It’s natural to experience deep sadness and wonder if anyone else can understand. The danger is that prolonged sadness can lead to isolation, which in turn can mean depression. Expressing these feelings to others and staying engaged is vital.
• Guilt. Your mom or dad might struggle with thoughts of past arguments or situations that they now feel should have gone differently. The challenge is to turn attention to cherished memories, as well as to be present now.
• Anger. We all understand how it’s possible to love a person and be angry with them at the same time. Coping with grief can make you feel angry with the person for not being here anymore. You might be upset with caregivers. Or even God. Anger can also be directed at everyday annoyances that seem even more annoying. Over time, these feelings generally fade.
• Fear. What will happen now? How will you face life without them? What about your mortality? Losing someone can trigger a host of fears.
• Physical pain. Physical signs can be nausea, fatigue, lowered immunity, weight loss or gain, insomnia, aches and pains, and more.
Coping with grief: supporting your loved one, and yourself—and how senior living could help.
Grieving can lead to loneliness and isolation, both of which have serious negative effects on an older adult’s health. Making a move to a senior living community could be the right answer for a person who is suddenly on their own, not sure of their future and slowly taking steps towards a new way of life. Consider these advantages:
• Company of like-minded people. In senior living, your mom or dad will have the benefit of being around others who share their life experiences. Being able to express feelings of sadness and loss without judgment is vital for a grieving older adult; a senior living community can be a safe harbor for those types of feelings.
• An active lifestyle. It’s far too easy for a widow or widower to withdraw from regular activities and begin leading a solitary and sedentary life. As a resident of a senior living community, they instead will have an array of activities and events from which to choose, challenging their minds, inspiring them to stay physically active, and providing a sense of purpose and feeling of community.
• A focus on wellness. Losing a spouse can lead to loneliness, which can lead to depression, which can result in poor eating habits, negative changes in health, increased isolation and more. By choosing a vibrant senior living setting, your older loved one can benefit from an atmosphere dedicated to wellbeing and longevity. Nutritious dining, continuous health monitoring, and on-site staffing 24/7 are just a few of the benefits.
• A new beginning. Grief has its own schedule, and especially for an older adult, it’s important to take things one step at a time following the loss of a significant person in their life. Many suggest waiting at least six months before making any major decisions. But once your parent or loved one has fully accepted their loss, choosing to move to a senior living community could be a positive way to embrace a future filled with healing and promise.
At Clearwater Living, our diverse programs, amenities, and events promote physical activity, stimulate the mind, bring purpose and meaning to life, encourage social engagement, provide an environment that’s beautiful for effortless living, and nourish the mind and body. We call it Empowered Living. Contact us to learn more or for resources on how to help a grieving older adult.