Ageing (gracefully, of course) is a complicated and nuanced passage that is unique for every person. No two lives are the same and no two individuals will share the same feelings towards the concept of death. This relationship also morphs over time, and continues to be impacted by a person’s own encounters and interactions with death over the course of their life.
Processing the emotions evoked by the death of a loved one is an equally complex and nuanced venture, no matter your life stage. It can feel completely disorienting, even for a steadfast senior who’s had the opportunity to experience and share life’s fullness and abundance. But even if being older and wiser* doesn’t necessarily equip you to move through grief any quicker or more easily, the consensus among seniors is that you’ll move through it differently. *Wisdom may vary.
Take it from some elders who’ve been there before…
Know that grief gets different
This notion is shared by most seniors in the elderly community. They all note a distinct change in how their grief manifests in old age, as compared with how it might have at another point in their life. For example, after the loss of a significant other or lifelong friend, an older person may not be able to bear to do the same activities that they might have once enjoyed with that person. But just like that grief, the key to healing presents itself in different and unexpected places, and it opens the door (and the heart) to a different future.
Dwell on the great times and actively recall beautiful memories
It can understandably be initially painful to travel to a meaningful place or engage in an activity that you once relished in with a special someone by your side. But sometimes it’s the very thing that draws seniors nearer to those most cherished memories and takes them back to the good times.
Similarly, seeking out photos from a rich past can help seniors relive their happiness, and feel uplifted by the fact that they had a chance to live all those wonderful moments with their special person. And while the pain of loss doesn’t disappear, embracing the memories works to relieve it and shift perspective.
Get rid of excessive ‘stuff’, but not everything
Hang onto those beautiful photos that are your memory portal, and any other other objects that are particularly precious (you’ll know the ones). But don’t feel bad about culling clothing, unused equipment or even smaller items that were well-loved by the one who’s passed. That’s not to say you can’t donate them or pass them on to someone else, but seniors do find the sense of relief that comes with doing a clear-out to be very worthwhile. This is because having too many physical reminders can create a heavy presence that may make it hard to move forward.
If you fall on the other end of the spectrum, you might rush to sell everything – including the house. The advice from seniors is to sleep on it, even if it may feel overwhelming to remain in a home that harbours all the emotion of living with the person dearest to you. It’s best to think twice rather than making a quick decision you might regret.
Seek support from people who care
It’s not your first rodeo. You’ve lived long enough to know that not everyone can be the source of support that you might need in the face of life’s tougher challenges. And that’s okay. But seniors who’ve gone through the same challenges do recommend talking to people in your support network who are receptive to your honest and true feelings. These vulnerable conversations may even help connections flourish, or provide surprising solutions to something you may be struggling with.
Numerous seniors also commented that they found strength in empathetic friends in similar situations. The people within your own network who have ‘been there’ can communicate, commiserate, celebrate and even grow through your grief with you.
Focus on your own legacy
When a loved one reaches the end of their life, it’s only natural for someone in their senior years to turn their mind to their own end-of-life planning. This might involve making a commitment to having conversations with family about your wishes, or deciding whether you would like to leave a legacy through education, finances or even scientific improvements that can impact the world.
The wisest thing to do is to take a bit of time now to get prepared.