For some reason grief always sneaks up on us. But as senior citizens, we have more opportunities to deal with grief simply because the phenomenon of someone passing away is not that uncommon at your age. Nonetheless, when the passing of a loved one strikes close to home and particularly if it is your spouse or someone you were with every day, it still hits “like a ton of bricks” and we find ourselves at a loss for how to correctly grieve about the loss.
It might seem odd that I used the phrase “correctly grieve”. But that phrase points out that not only is grief a normal part of life, it’s a healthy mechanism our minds and emotional systems have for processing loss. But there is a correct way to grieve and an incorrect way.
When you first experience the loss, it hits hard. It’s natural to feel a sense of disorientation and an inability to feel or think at all for a while. That is because you have to go from a condition of having that loved one to not having them in a matter of moments. Even if the loved one was ill and near passing, the final news that he or she did pass away still has that shock to it.
There are a variety of reactions to grief that some have called the “stages of grief”. But they really are not stages because everybody doesn’t go through all of them every time they grieve. But the common reactions to grief are sadness, anger, denial, depression and acceptance. An incorrect way to process grief is to get stuck in any one condition.
When you meet someone who has lost a loved one and you can tell there have been no tears and they seem unusually upbeat, that may be the denial phase in action. That person may be able to accept the facts of the loss but at an emotional level, they are treating it like it did not happen. But it is just as unhealthy to stall out in anger, sadness or depression as well and if that is where you find yourself because of the loss of a loved one, then its time to get some help. The only healthy phase of grief to stall out in is acceptance.
Preparation for grief is a good way to give yourself a roadmap to recovery. If you are reading this article with the purpose of preparing yourself for the time when it will come, that’s a good step because you are arming yourself with information which can be a life saver when it feels like grief is going to overwhelm you. But some other very healthy ways of giving yourself tools to get through this tough time are…
§ Pre-grieve. Talk to your loved one about the time when one of you will pass away. If your loved one is ill and will face that moment of passing soon, you can get some of the emotional processing out of the way early. § Give yourself permission to grieve. It’s not unmanly to cry or immature to feel sad or lonely without the one that passed. You are allowed to be in a grieving period for some weeks and months to give yourself permission to come out of that state slowly and naturally. § Know the stages and reactions and when you feel sadness, depression, anger or denial, recognize what they are. That will help you not stall out.
Grieving is important and you need to process it thoroughly so you can “get closure” about the loss. And once you can accept the loss and be at peace about it, you will move on to peace and acceptance. And when you are there, your grieving process has been a success.