As we age, grief becomes something we experience more often, mourning the loss of the people closest to us. It can be an arduous process. In honor of National Grief Awareness Day on August 30, we offer some insights and tips for handling grief, whether it’s you or a loved one who’s suffering.
When we lose a loved one we are losing a part of our lives, and our mental and physical health can suffer as a result. There are other peripheral losses the loved one might experience as well, such as the loss of a social network or financial security. The stress of grief can also be associated with physical problems with the heart, stroke, dementia, and depleted immunity.
How to Support Grieving Loved Ones
Give them time and space. Grief is a process that takes time and includes many stages. Some of the stages may be hard to understand. Your loved one may become confused, angry, experience ups and downs, and may act in ways that confuse you. It’s important to give them time and space, but also to let them know that you are there for them when they want to talk.
Spend time with them. Even if you’re not talking, being present will help them. And when they’re ready to talk, speak honestly and kindly. It may help do some fun activities to take their mind off of the loss, like walking, seeing a movie, or lunch. Let them talk when they are ready. Encourage them to share good memories, and be a listening ear.
Talk to a professional. If depression lasts for longer than a few months, or if your loved one is abusing alcohol or drugs, talk to a professional. Also, don’t rush to put a loved one on medication or sedatives, as this will keep them from experiencing their pain and grief. The only way to get through grief is to sit with it, experience it, and talk about it.
The Stages of Grief
Though it can vary from person to person, these are the stages that a grieving person typically goes through.
Shock and Denial. In this first stage, your loved one might feel numb and in a state of disbelief.
Disorganization. It becomes difficult for the person to handle day-to-day tasks and keep their life in order.
Anger. Irritability is setting in and the loved one can take out their hurt on others.
Guilt and Bargaining. The loved one might go back over things in their mind, second-guess, say “if only”, and bargain with God.
Physical/Emotional Distress. Mental distress such as anxiety and depression can reveal itself in physical distress such as sleeplessness, shortness of breath, and pain.
Depression. Despair and depression will happen. If it lasts for several months and is debilitating, call a health professional.
Loss and Loneliness. About two weeks in, reality sets in, and your loved one will feel deep loss and loneliness. They might act unreasonably or try to fill the void.
Withdrawal. In this stage, the person grieving wants to withdraw within themselves.
Acceptance. Your loved one might start a new hobby, do something to honor the person they lost, and begin to feel more hope in their daily life.
Grieving seniors experience a roller coaster of emotions that include denial, confusion, lack of concentration, fatigue, irritability, and anguish. Being there for them will help them navigate the deep waters of grief. Time will make it easier, and a support system will make the way easier to travel.
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