As we age, death and loss become more common in our families and social circles. Grief is painful at any age, but it’s often overlooked in older adults. If you’re experiencing grief and learning how to cope with the death of close friends or family members, know that you’re not alone. Dealing with loss isn’t easy, but understanding the grieving process and learning coping skills can help you get through it.
Mourning a Loved One
Everyone goes through grief and loss, but most people don’t want to talk about death. Acknowledging and processing death is a very difficult but important experience. Unfortunately, the death of loved ones becomes more common as you and the people in your life age. You may face the loss of your spouse, siblings, and friends.
When someone close to you passes away, it’s normal to experience a change in identity. For example, if your sibling passes away, your identity as a brother or sister changes. You don’t forget the importance of the relationship, and you don’t have to stop identifying with the relationship, but the death of a loved one can change your current role in your family structure or circle of friends.
There are many misconceptions about death and grief that can make mourning an even more difficult experience. Our society expects people to get used to grief as they age and lose more of their loved ones. However, no matter how many times you’ve experienced loss, it never truly gets easier.
Another misconception is that losing friends isn’t as important as losing family members. For some people, the death of a friend is much more difficult than the death of a family member. Losing a friend that you’ve chosen to keep in your life for a long time can be heartbreaking at any age, but others may not recognize the death as important. They might minimize your grief or expect you to recover quickly. This can be extremely isolating and can make you feel like you have to internalize the grief.
The most important thing to remember about mourning is that everyone has a different process. Your own experiences, culture, beliefs, and values shape the way you feel about death, and no one can or should tell you the “right” way to grieve.
Stages of Grief After a Death
Some experts use the established five stages of grief to better understand the mourning process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This framework provides a general overview of what grief may look like, but mourning is different for everyone. People can experience these stages of grief in different orders or for different lengths of time. Some people may go through all five, and others may not.
During this stage of grief, you may have difficulty accepting the loss. You may try to ignore the reality of the situation or avoid discussing the death with your loved ones. This sometimes happens before the person has passed away. For example, if a loved one is in hospice care, you may not want to speak with their doctors.
This stage of grief can be directed inward or outward. Death isn’t fair, and facing a loss can be angering, especially if it’s untimely. You may feel angry at the doctors, nurses, or other family members if you feel that they could have done more. You may also feel angry at yourself or angry at the world in general.
You may try to make a deal to save the person or bring them back. For example, if you’re religious, you may tell God that you’ll do anything if your loved one is spared. Another common form of bargaining is “if only” statements. You may find yourself rethinking previous decisions or events and imagining that life had happened differently.
This stage of grief involves extreme sadness or hopelessness about the loss. Depression after the death of a loved one can manifest in a number of different ways. You may isolate yourself and withdraw from others, or you may struggle with sleeping, eating, or activities of daily living. You may cry more than usual or feel guilty.
During this stage of grief, you reach a state of peace regarding the death. This doesn’t mean that your grief is entirely in the past, though. You may never fully recover from the death of a loved one, and that’s okay. Acceptance means understanding that the person is gone and being able to participate in life without them.
Coping With Loss
Grief doesn’t go away if you ignore it. Acknowledging and validating your own loss is the most important step toward recovering after the death of a friend or family member. Regardless of whether or not others recognize your grief, you must actively process your feelings in order to cope.
First, remember that everything you feel is normal and acceptable. There isn’t a right or wrong way to mourn, and you cannot change the way you feel. Try not to feel guilty for any of the emotions you experience while you grieve, and allow yourself to mourn for however long you need. You don’t have to follow any timeline or framework.
Once you’re ready to start engaging in activities again, try to change your routine or do something new. When you go through the motions of your normal routine, it’s easy for your mind to wander and dwell on anxious or negative thoughts. Also, if your loved one was a part of certain aspects of your daily routine, participating in these activities without them can be painful.
Making small changes to your routine can help you stay focused on the present moment. For example, try going to a different grocery store than your usual one, or take a different route on your daily walk. Listen to a new song or read a new book. If you used to be the caretaker for a loved one who passed away, find a hobby or volunteer opportunity that you can direct your time and attention toward.
Coping with death involves finding the balance between acknowledging your feelings and continuing to live a meaningful life. Navigating this isn’t easy, and it isn’t the same for everyone. Continuing on after you lose someone is a daily challenge. Allow yourself to grieve, but give yourself permission to live.
If you can, talk to someone who you know will listen without judgment. A close friend or family member who also knew the person you lost could be a great source of support during this difficult time. You can also find a grief support group in your area to connect with others who are in mourning.
Another option for support while you process death and grief is counseling. Mourning is a complicated, challenging process, especially when you go through it alone. A licensed therapist can help you work through the your grief, understand your feelings, and find ways to cope with your loss.
Grief is one of the most painful experiences we go through, but it does get easier over time. If you’re mourning the death of a loved one, remember to take care of yourself both mentally and physically. To receive support from a professional, reach out to Blue Moon Senior Counseling today. Our licensed therapists are here to help you with whatever challenges may come your way as you age.