Grief and the Older Adult
How often have you heard the popular adage "Time is a great healer" offered as words of consolation to individuals who are in grief after losing a close family member to death. Although there are many who do not totally agree rather saying that time helps to manage the pain, it does help to understand that grief is a process.
Grief is not a static event but rather is ever-changing, in reaction to a significant loss. The loss takes on new meaning with different reactions as you carry on living over the days, months and years after the death of a significant person in your life. Age is an important factor to consider as it impacts on how you grieve.
In the article Grief Support for Older Adults, Anthony Turo, Executive Director of Pittsburg's Ursuline Senior Services said:
Anyone over the age of 65 generally is trying to come to
terms with their own mortality as well as that of their aging
friends and family members. When you add to this the
fact that they also may be dealing with physical ailments,
a fixed income, taking care of elderly parents, or other life
stresses, it becomes clear how bereavement could take an
extreme toll on their entire life and how a stable support
system would be beneficial.
Cynthia Oliver, Director of the Good Grief Center for Bereavement Support, a division of Ursuline Senior Services in Pittsburgh stated in the same article:
Society can forget about the special needs of older adults
who are grieving... Life changes dramatically when they lose
a spouse. They struggle with figuring out who they are and
how to navigate life without their life-long partner. If they have
been a loving caregiver, they often have given up their own
support system of friends and social circles. If a grandchild
dies, the grandparent grieves twice: They grieve the loss of
the grandchild while carrying the pain of their own child’s
Although challenging, older adults have also likely experienced a multitude of losses and adversities that they have had to cope with as they have aged. They potentially have years of coping experience to draw from, more than their younger counterparts - job loss, financial challenges, workplace conflict, relationship issues, relocation, family issues in addition to death. Learning from past experience can be beneficial. It makes sense that those who have accumulated adaptive coping strategies over the years are more likely to have healthier grieving experiences as older adults than those with historic maladaptive coping strategies.
Grief is complex whether you are young or old. Understanding and being compassionate of the complexities that are unique to each individual can be helpful in supporting others who are grieving. Developing and encouraging good coping strategies in the younger years can pave the way for older adults to deal with the challenges and losses they face as they age.