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Helping Your Senior Relatives Through Grief

Grief is a natural response to losing a loved one. This feeling is often overwhelming, leaving you feeling all kinds of difficult emotions. The pain caused by grief can hurt your physical and mental health.

If you have a senior relative who is struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one, this article is for you. It can be difficult to understand how to comfort your relatives through this hard time to ensure they stay healthy. Most grieving seniors will become isolated, neglecting their mental and social well-being.

Symptoms of Grief

Grief affects us physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Everyone handles grief differently and will have different symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of grief include:

  • Crying
  • Sighing
  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Eating too much
  • Sleep problems
  • Aches and pains
  • Self-destructive habits (smoking or drinking too much)
  • Feeling alone
  • Isolating from others
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Feeling clingy
  • Sadness
  • Anger and frustration
  • Guilt, depression, yearning
  • Fluctuating emotions

Stages of Grief

There are multiple stages of grief. However, people go through the stages differently, depending on what is happening in their lives. Additionally, your relatives may revisit steps multiple times. The five most common stages of grief are below. Keep in mind, these aren’t definite and some clinicians think there may be more stages.

  • Shock/Denial: During this stage, your loved one will have trouble accepting the fact of death or may become emotionally numb.
  • Anger: It is common for people to become angry at themselves, others, God, and life.
  • Bargaining: Sometimes people will try to make “deals” with God or others, hoping to fix the situation. They will often think about what should’ve or could’ve happened.
  • Depression: Feeling depressed often goes hand-in-hand with grief. Many will feel overwhelmed with sadness, regret, and anxiety during this phase. They will feel isolated and have self-pity.
  • Acceptance: Usually the final stage of the grieving process, people will often come to adjust to the new reality. They start moving on and have a sense of hope.

To prevent grief, follow the steps below.

Give Them Time

The grieving process takes time. Healing happens slowly and gradually and shouldn’t be forced or hurried. Depending on the person, the grieving process can take a few days to multiple years. Whatever the situation, it is important to be patient with your loved one and allow the process time to unfold.

While you give them time to heal, try to encourage social support. Encourage your relatives to talk with you, their friends, family, or a professional counselor. Grief can often lead to social isolation and depression. To prevent this, try to get them to talk with others. Sometimes it can help if they talk with someone who has been through a similar grieving process. Consider taking them to a local hospice program or Compassionate Friends group for support sessions.

If your loved one is becoming seriously depressed, seek out the help of a professional.

Don’t Get “Stuck In A Rut”

It can be easy for both caregivers and older adults to get stuck in the same boring daily routine. This can lead to an increased chance of depression and usually doesn’t help with getting them out of the grieving process.

Plan special events that your grieving relative can look forward to. Plan events that keep your loved one engaged, such as taking them to the park, play board games with your kids, or visit with their friends.

Getting them into new atmospheres and socializing with others can help them out of the grieving process.

Listen

When your senior relative is grieving, be available to offer them unobtrusive support. Really listen to them, allowing the other person to fully express themselves without sharing your own experiences with grief. This could have a negative effect by making them feel like you are dismissing their pain.

Allow them to use expressions of anger, bitterness, and sadness without judgement. Most of the time, your loved one will likely just need someone there to hug and share their feelings with. Don’t hesitate to share a comforting hug or to hold their hand. This alone can significantly help them through this tough time.

Prioritize Their Health

It can be easy to stray away from the daily habits that are keeping your loved ones healthy. Help ensure that they are still eating right, taking their medications, and getting enough exercise. If they stay healthy, they’ll feel better, which could help lead them through this hard time.

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