Seniors and Grief – by Jackie Waters

According to the AARP, 40 percent of all women, and 13 percent of all men over the age of 65 are widowed. It’s difficult to watch someone you love grieve the loss of a spouse, but there are things you can do to help. It helps to begin with learning what grief is and isn’t, and understanding the special challenges seniors face after the death of their best friend and/or life partner.

After loss

Death brings many complicated emotions that can be difficult to handle despite age and experience. There has been extensive research over the past few decades on the topic of grief. This information can serve as a starting place for understanding how the process develops. Ultimately, mourning is a personal experience and there is no instruction book or timeline to follow. The most important thing to remember when a loved one is grieving is there will be good days and bad days. It takes time to adjust to such a big change, and even longer to fully accept it. Cynthia Oliver of the Good Grief Center for Bereavement Support notes that grief is not simply an event with a set starting point and definite end date. Seniors who have lost a loved one are often experience with and effected by other forms of loss, long before their spouse or partner’s life actually ended. By this age, many have lost important members of their friendship circle and wake up every morning with a rapidly dwindling support network. In addition to grieving, people over the age of 65 may be trying to come to terms with their own mortality.

A long and winding road

The Kubler-Ross model has defined five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Recent studies have shown that these stages don’t play out in a linear fashion, as previously believed. Most people feel different emotions throughout the course of their grief, often at the same time. Typically, the anger and depression stages are the most noticeable, although there is pain throughout the process.

According to Toni Bisconti, a psychologist at the University of Akron, those grieving tend to oscillate between stages. Keeping this in mind will prove helpful while caring for your loved one. It is worth pointing out that he or she won’t simply “get over” the loss. The feeling of anguish will lessen over time, but never fully dissipate. Upon reaching acceptance, emotions become manageable but waves of sadness and anger may creep in long after the day a spouse died.

A study by Clinical Psychologist George A. Bonanno of Columbia University found that for about half of the study’s elderly participants, grief subsided substantially over the course of six months. Other research studies suggest that it takes a full two years to return to a satisfactory quality of life. One thing that is not contested, is that recovery is bolstered by the amount of familial and social support received by the surviving spouse.

Back on track

The National Institute on Aging says there are several ways to help a grieving senior remain on a healthy trajectory after a loss. These include:
● Encouraging a balanced diet by offering to bring food once or twice a week
● Spending time with them and encouraging social activities
● Helping them find a grief support group and offering to drive them to meetings
● Discouraging any major life changes until they have had time to mourn
● Watching for signs of depression, drug use (which is surprisingly common among older adults), and deteriorating health, and intervening if necessary
Remember, while you cannot eliminate feelings of sadness, you can help combat loneliness, encourage positive behaviors, and keep an eye on their activities for signs of internal troubles. With your support, your loved one will have a better chance of reclaiming their life, and finishing out their Golden Years with a whole and happy heart.

Jackie Waters is a mother of four boys, and lives on a farm in Oregon. She is passionate about providing a healthy and happy home for her family, and aims to provide advice for others on how to do the same with her

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