Dealing with Grief in the Waning Years


   Grief is a topic that people generally do not want to face.  As we age, however, it becomes more prevalent than ever.  Acquaintances begin to have injuries or pass away and it is startling to realize that some of them have diseases or injuries that we’ve always associated with old age.  Things like knee replacements or hip injuries are the new coffee table conversation.  Often people mention others that have died of a stroke or a heart attack.  People in our own peer groups are dying or debilitated by illnesses at what seems to be alarmingly high rates.  It is probably statistically normal for these age groups, but if you’re one of the few who have managed to live while many around you have died, it can seem overwhelming. 

   Each year that we grow older, it is probable that more people we love will pass away.  So how can we deal with all of this grief and loss in a healthy way?  How do we go on living when so many important people have gone ahead of us in death? Everyone grieves in a little different way, but there are some very common things you can do to help yourself through hard times.

  1.  Allow your emotions. has identified the stages of grief as: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and acceptance.  Each of these stages will last for a variable amount of time depending on how you process emotions and how close you were to the person who has passed away.  It is important to note, too, that another person does not need to die in order for you to grieve.  If someone you care for has lost their ability to walk, or see, or if they’ve become addicted to prescription drugs, or if they are struggling with Alzheimer’s, or any number of other major life changes, you may find yourself going through the stages of grief without realizing it.  Give yourself some grace, allow the emotions to roll over you and pass. You’ll have to pay attention when you’re going through the stages to be sure that you do not get stuck there.  If you need help from a counselor, do not neglect getting help.  Dealing with grief over the loss of many people can be terribly overwhelming and most people cannot face it without a great deal of support. 
  2. Be sure not to isolate yourself.  Grieving is a long process and it can be tempting to want to burrow in and neglect other relationships as we walk with our memories of those who have gone before.  Initial grief is intense, but if you feel it’s prolonged for longer than is healthy, try this.  Set aside a certain amount of time each day that you will think about those that you have lost.  Then spend your other time in ways that you would have previously.
  3. Find ways to keep yourself busy.  I am not talking about becoming a work-a-holic in order to neglect the emotions that well up inside of you…once again, allow those emotions to wash over you and pass.  It is important, however, to have purpose and to look outward instead of always focusing on your feelings.  If you can volunteer in various ways, do so.  If you are not physically able to do volunteer work, find ways that you can help others in various ways, sew or crochet for hospitals or as baby gifts.  Let others know that you’re available to repair small items that need repairs if you’re good with tools.  You could repair radios, small furniture, lamps, clocks, etc.
  4. Nurture other relationships.  You need to be sure that as you’re grieving you also find time for others who are important to you.  Let them know how you’re feeling and that you may not feel up to spending tons of time together at first, but that they are an important part of your life.  If you’re open about where you are emotionally, people respond well.  If you try to hide the fact that you’re struggling, it can sometimes be misunderstood as evasive and they could misinterpret your inability to have an active social life as a personal affront.  Set aside small increments of time to spend with them until your relationship can regain its footing.

Grief can seem like the end of the world.  It can seem as if will never end.  One thing is certain, though.  Even if your grief lasts for a long time, it will change, it will lighten, and eventually you’ll be able to smile and recall those you love with laughter instead of intense pain.  Let it happen and allow yourself to heal and to live.  

When You Feel Like You're Losing Control

  “Being in control of the situation” is something that most Americans are proud of.  Whether it is a housing deal, a health care situation, or any number of other major decisions that we have to endure throughout our lifespan here on earth, we like to feel that we are in control of the outcome.  This feeling is especially prevalent when we are making major life changes. Moving from our home to an assisted living facility may be one time when our grasp on control feels like it is slipping.  Enduring a health crisis might be another time.  And each time that we are faced with these feelings, we have a choice about how to deal with it.  Sometimes, inadvertently, we choose to deal with these feelings poorly and can cause a great deal of stress and strain on our loved ones or those trying to help us. Some people have been noted to become mean-spirited, manipulative or just plain difficult simply because they don't know how to communicate their feelings. So, here are some tips on how to get through the seeming craziness of a situation beyond your control without losing your dignity and grace.

  1. Recognize what IS within your control. Perhaps you are dealing with cancer, or diabetes.  The fact that you have one of those diseases is not, in fact, within your control.  The things you eat, the treatment course that you choose, and the environment that you decide to stay in ARE within your control.  Make peace with what you are incapable of changing.  Perhaps one of your children is wanting to sell the homestead that they inherited.  If it is their belonging, it is not within your control. Boundaries can become blurred when we are sentimental about things, or when we feel another person is making a poor choice.  You can talk to them about your feelings, but then you must let it go.  It is, after all, a material possession & your relationship with them is much more important than that.
  2. Investigate WHY you feel the need to be in control. This can be a difficult journey.  If you find yourself consistently struggling and grasping for more control in your personal relationships, you might need to do some self-evaluation.  Often this is caused by past wounds that have been done to you, and times when you have felt very much out of control.  The problem with coping with the past in this way is that you can tend to become someone who manipulates current situations with extreme control because you're unwilling to deal with those past wounds.
  3. Work on letting go of the things that do not really matter. As you begin to do this, you will begin to realize that others around you are fully capable of making good decisions.  Even if they do not, it is not necessarily your responsibility to take charge of it.  If people around you are used to you usurping control, it may take them a bit of time before they understand that you're letting go.

  While it may seem counter-intuitive, letting go is an extremely healthy thing to do.  There are actually very few things in life that we have control over, anyway.  You might find a great sense of peace & freedom when you've laid down the burden of always having everything together, organized, & perfectly planned.  That freedom & peace can translate into things of lasting value, things like relationship, love, trust & genuine laughter.  So, as we age, let it be with grace & dignity.  Let our aging be the kind that makes people want to remember us with joy, instead of grasping for nice things to say about us once we're gone.