Grief and Sadness with Seniors
We hear a lot about the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Many people think you move through these stages in sequential order after a major loss. Often times, that is not the case. Some people might start with anger, go into denial, are depressed a short time, come to a place of acceptance, and then go back and repeat stages. Sometimes we think we are in a place of acceptance, but then something reminds us of that person and we go back to depression, or bargaining, or another stage. It’s very common to repeat stages while grieving.
Another thing to consider is the definition of loss. Typically, we think of loss and grief after someone we love dies. Loss can be much more than that. We grieve when we lose someone we love, but we also can grieve when life starts changing. Even positive changes can warrant grief. We have to grieve what we’ve given up. Think about positive life changes, i.e. getting married, having a baby, moving to a new home. These are positive changes but you have to give up things like independence, privacy, the ability to make all the decisions, and an old home full of memories. It is normal to grieve after a big life change.
The senior population in particular has a lot of grief to consider. In the later years of a person’s life, they are often flooded with change and loss. People lose their independence and have to grieve their past abilities. They may have people close with them pass away. They may not be safe to live independently in their home and have to leave their home. They may lose the ability to go to the bathroom or shower independently and lose their modesty. They may not have as much contact with the ones they love because they can’t get out as much. They may no longer be able to drive because their vision is too poor. They may start to get confused at times and know their memory is not what it used to be. They may be in denial at first, thinking they will return to the nice home they built. They may try to bargain with their kids ways to stay. They may be angry and think, “Why did this have to happen to me?“ or “How could they do this to me?” They may be sad about the circumstances and cry uncontrollably. These are all normal feelings and part of the process.
There are a lot of things we can do to help people move through the grieving process. Encourage people to talk about their old home or a happy time in their life. Talking about the things we are grieving helps to process the feelings associated with them. Validate those feelings, memories, and experiences. If a person cries about the loss they are experiencing, let them. Crying can be very therapeutic, and is a way to process our emotions and let them out. Engage with a person who is grieving and invite them to make new memories with you. If a person continues to struggle, talking to a therapist is often helpful.
“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomfort.” -Arnold Bennett