There are many wonderful things about growing older: having more free time to do the things we enjoy; the ability to look back on wonderful memories we have shared with friends and family, and the experience of imparting our wisdom and life experience on our loved ones. But there are challenges too, one of which is experiencing the loss of those who are close to us, whether it’s a friend, a family member or a spouse.
Grief is painful at every age, but it can be especially detrimental to older adults. Symptoms of grief can include the inability to sleep and eat, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, a feeling of resentment towards the person who passed away and guilt for being the ones still alive.
Grief can also impact the immune systems of older adults. Studies show that grief can weaken a type of white blood cell, the neutrophil, resulting in a lessened immune system. This leaves the grieving susceptible to conditions such as pneumonia and is one of the reasons spouses have been known to pass away soon after their other half dies.
While the death of a loved one can make it seem like your world has fallen apart, it’s important to try and maintain some aspects of the routine you had before you experienced the loss. These include taking your medications as prescribed, sticking to your routine such as your waking and sleeping times and doing the exercises that you previously enjoyed. Also, try to surround yourself with caring, supportive people and reach out to them, whether it’s for a talk on the phone or to meet them for a cup of coffee.
Also, make an effort to engage in positive activities that you enjoy, whether it’s going for a walk at a park near your home or visiting your local library. You could consider adopting a pet or offering to take care of your friends’ children so that you can regain the social connections you lost. Finally, consider joining a support group or signing up for one-on-one talk therapy with a counsellor to help you through this difficult time.
Just remember that while grief and mourning are painful, the pain won’t last forever. And you’ll always have the memories of your loved one to hold on to.