Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity; the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. - Earl Grollman Grieving the loss of a loved one is a universal experience, yet the manner in which we grieve is unique to each individual. As adults age, it sometimes seems that loss and grief become a part of life. We look around and notice that friends, relatives, siblings and even children are dying.
Not only does this cause older adults to mourn the loss of their loved ones, but they also begin to realize that they, too, have more days behind them than they do ahead. In other words, their finiteness becomes more real. Information on the website SHARE.com advises that the profound effect that grief and loss have on older adults is exacerbated because they may be coping with the decline and death of family members and close friends, as they are simultaneously experiencing a variety of "living losses" in their own lives, such as health issues, loss of independence, energy and lifestyle. Moreover, an emotional support system that previously existed may no longer be in place because friends and confidants have passed and adult children are busy with their own lives. To that end, bereavement can be especially painful and lonely for seniors. According to SeniorCare.com, “Society may forget about the special needs of older adults who are grieving.
Life changes dramatically when they lose a spouse or close friend. They struggle to find ways to navigate life absent a long-time partner or friend. In addition, when a grandchild dies, grandparents grieve twice: They grieve the loss of the grandchild while carrying the pain of their own child’s suffering.”
While nothing can take the pain of grief away, there are ways for older adults to navigate through their grief and restore hope. One way to work through the grief process and pain of loss is by talking about it or getting support from others who can relate to the situation and feelings. It is also critical to understand that grief is a process—not an event—and everyone must move through that process in his or her own way and pace.
The degree to which older adults cope with feelings of sorrow, anger, loneliness, confusion and despair that accompany grief and loss may depend on their ability and willingness to process emotions. Older adults who have learned how to communicate their feelings and needs, who have the freedom and permission to vent their deepest emotions and who have cultivated an attitude of acceptance, humility, peace and faith over time, are better able to cope with grief. Those who tend to hide or repress their feelings and do not share or interact with others, struggle with grief and depression more. The ability to turn grief into an opportunity for personal and spiritual deepening, come to terms with life as it really is and renew a sense of purpose for living also depends on having a support system. No matter if older adults live alone, in a retirement community or with family members, those who have trustworthy, non-judgmental and empathetic friends and relationships, often work through the grief process quicker.
Studies from the Grief Recovery Institute indicate that in an overwhelming majority of cases, depression and anxiety can be the result of unresolved grief issues. The study concludes that, “You can't think your way out of heartbreak. It is like trying to paint a room with a hammer. It is not your head that is broken; it is your heart.” It is also entirely possible to mistake depression for grief or for grief to turn into depression. Grieving over losses is normal and healthy, even if the feelings of sadness last for a long time. Losing all hope and joy, however, is not common. Distinguishing between grief and clinical depression is not always easy, especially since they share many symptoms. However, there are ways to tell the difference. Grief is a roller coaster involving a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even in the middle of the grieving process, an individual will have moments of pleasure or happiness.
On the other hand, with depression, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant. Nearly everyone has suffered from depression at one time in his or her life. It can affect anyone, at anytime, at any age. Depression transcends racial, religious, and ethnic boundaries. And, while both genders suffer from depression, women report it twice as often as men do. Depression in older adults and the elderly is often linked to physical illness, which can increase the risk for depression. Chronic pain and physical disability can understandably get you down. Symptoms of depression can also occur as part of medical problems such as dementia or as a side effect of prescription drugs.