As we get older, it is a fact of life that we will lose more people who are dear to us. It is a part of how life works. Those we've grown up emulating are getting older, those we've grown up with are aging. Many of our elderly friends and family have already lost a large number of loved ones. The problem with death is that it never comes at an opportune time. And grief? Grief doesn't come at an opportune time either. It is a complicated and untimely beast. So how can we help our friends and loved ones who are grieving? How can we recognize grief when it strikes us or someone we love?
There are several common stages of grief. These stages seem easy to understand and in a logical order on paper, but remember that they are not easy to go through. They also do not seem to come in a logical order in most people. Recognizing them may help as you grieve, and they may also be beneficial as you help someone else navigate the grief process.
Denial is often the first stage of grief. Some people describe it as unbelief that the loved one has passed on. Others describe it as “surreal” or as if they're walking around in a daze or a fog. It is really shock that they are experiencing. It takes one's brain a bit of time to catch up with reality. If your reality has included a living person for a great number of years, it will be very difficult for your brain to understand that they are no longer alive. This stage can be helpful if it comes first, as it might buy you some time, without emotion, to attend to funeral preparations or travel plans.
Another stage is called bargaining. This is usually when you wonder what you could've done to prevent the death of a loved one. Or you wish that it could have been you instead of them. This is natural as we tend to self-evaluate if everything that should have been done was done for them. Did we give our best effort to save them, did those who were with them give their best effort?
Anger might come next, especially if we perceive that more should have been done by ourselves or someone else. Anger also is sometimes directed at the loved one for leaving us in this world with no recourse but to accept that they are gone. They may have left many things undone, in our estimation, and it seems unfair that we have to pick up the pieces of their death.
Depression is common after this because we realized that we can't remain angry forever with them, with ourselves and with others. Anger is also a very exhausting emotion . When the anger is spent, a deep weariness can come in waves. Extra sleep might be required. An inability to just move on with life is common. Getting over-tired can sometimes result in an inability to sleep at all or to eat properly. This is a stage to have a strong support system in place.
Finally, acceptance is the final stage. There is no set period of time to determine when acceptance will occur. It is different for each person. It might make it easier if you knew of someone's imminent death because they had a terminal disease, but not always. Some people hold on to such hope despite prognosis that it is still a great shock to them at the time of death.
If you are helping someone else deal with grief, be sure to listen to the words and stories that they are telling you. Taking the time to listen and care about the memories and relationship that they had with that person will encourage them to talk and process the memories. Encourage them to let emotions out without using phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “They're in a better place”. Those statements might be true, but they are entirely overused and might not seem genuine to the person that is grieving, especially if they are in the anger stage. If you notice that the person you are supporting seems stuck in a state of depression for an extended period of time, suggest that they might want to see a therapist just to get help processing what is happening to them. Finally, show that you love them in whichever way they can best accept it. If they want to sit in silence, it is perfectly acceptable to sit with them .
Grief is a strange and slippery thing. Finding life on the other side of it is possible. It just may not look the same as it did before.
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.
Allow your emotions. Medicine.net 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.
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.
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.
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.
Grief and Loss
Aging sometimes has unexpected side-effects. There are some things that we just don’t think about ahead of time. There are some things that we can’t see coming or prepare for. Loss of loved ones & friends is one of those things. Sure, when we’re young, we notice that it seems as though quite a few people pass on as they grow older, but do we ever think about what that means for their older friends? It may not be uncommon for them to lose 5 or 6 people they love within a year. How do any of us cope with the enormity of these types of loss & grief in a healthy way?
Talk! I know that for some generations it was looked upon as weakness to express emotions, but it is terribly important to let those emotions out when you’re hit with yet another loss in your life. Even if it is not the death of a loved one or friend, even if it is simply the loss of an ability or grief over no longer being able to visit them because they’ve moved in with a child across the country. Let your anger or frustration out, let your sadness out in words or tears. It is far healthier for you to release it in that way that in pent up frustration and anxiety that will surface at the most inopportune of times!
Reckognize the stage of grief that you may be in. Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing & acceptance. There are many articles on the internet that can give you more details, but sometimes it’s helpful to know where you’re at and that it is natural. That, in itself, can be a comfort when you can’t seem to figure out why you’re responding in ways that are not usual for your personality.
Take time to live! Perhaps, even though it may not feel like it, it might be time to press into friendships & family. Instead of running scared about what else may happen, run toward friends and family. Try to have meaningful conversations. Make meaningful memories. Write down memories for those little ones in your life that will carry the memories far beyond your allotted years on this earth. It may be frightening to carry on, but it’s necessary. There is a reason that you are still here. Use the days that you have left to contribute & to enjoy. Perhaps you’ll find that you have later years that are even more fun & meaningful than all those that have gone before!