Quality of Life: Dealing with Loss

It’s the type of support we surround ourselves with that can make a big difference to how we cope with loss.

“All that which has touched and shaped us is with us still” –  Unknown


Loss is inevitable in life but as we grow older, we typically experience many more types of loss. Loss affects people in different ways and there’s no right or wrong way to feel about it. But often, it’s the type of support we surround ourselves with that can make a big difference to how we cope with loss and overcome the challenges it presents.


Losses such as the loss of independence, physical ability or loss of a loved one may well bring on overwhelming emotions and can mean significant changes in the daily lives of the Elderly.


In addition, the Elderly are often subject to developmental losses which include: illness, ageing body and mind (physical/mental impairment), regrets about the past and possibly their achievements or lack thereof, having to retire and their children leaving home.


In the coming weeks we will explore the different forms of loss, -its impact on individuals and how families, caregivers and communities can offer support to the Elderly through the healing process.


Who am I now without my companion?

Losing a loved one – especially a spouse – is incredibly painful. Bereavement can bring on feelings of being invisible, neglected, depressed or lonely. An older adult who loses a partner through death may also experience many secondary losses including financial security, companionship, role as a wife or husband and loss of identity.

Because we all grieve in different ways and there is no definite timeframe for mourning, loved ones should look for guidance from the Elder about the ways they can support them best. You could provide meals, run errands, carrying out household chores or spend time with the Elder conversing and consoling them. Whatever form your support might take, it’s important that at the heart of it your intentions reflect a genuine empathy for the pain, fear and changes that the Elderly person is facing.


Losing a beloved pet can be emotional and difficult to deal with especially if the pet served as the person’s primary companion. The loss of a pet does not necessarily refer to their death, but could also refer to an Elder giving up their pet due to his or her own physical, health-related, or financial limitations.


Moving into assisted living, retirement homes, or care facilities, can make it difficult for the Elderly to keep their companion so it’s a good idea to leave the pet with family members who can bring the pet when visiting or video calling their loved ones.


Above all, the loss of a pet should be treated with the same compassion as losing a companion. Too often our inability to know how to support someone who’s lost a pet will result in frustration or dismissal of the pain that it causes. It’s not ‘just a dog’ – for the Elderly it is company, a purpose and the need for support over the loss of an animal shouldn’t be underestimated.


Coping with grief

Grief refers to how we experience loss. It can feel unbearable, but it’s a necessary process. Grief can sometimes physically affect us (it lives in the body e.g. a heavy or broken heart).


Many different factors can influence the way in which we deal with grief as a result of our personalities, societal expectations as well as our upbringing.


Mourning refers to the way in which grief is expressed. Some people can have a hard time coping with grief and as a result may develop complicated grief reactions, for example:

  • Unresolved grief: When one’s feelings are intense and prolonged. Their daily functioning may decline and they may withdraw from other previously meaningful relationships.

  • Chronic grief: After a prolonged period of time, the bereaved person cannot speak about the loss without intense overwhelming pain. Unrelated events may often still trigger intense feelings for the bereaved person and the theme of loss will often be brought up in conversations.

  • Delayed grief reaction: This form of grief is common when emotional reactions at the time of the loss are not sufficiently expressed.

  • Exaggerated grief reaction: The bereaved person feels overwhelmed by the intensity of the normal grieving process. This person will often develop physical symptoms such as migraines, aches and pains.

  • Masked grief reaction: The individual experiences the same physical or medical symptoms as the deceased. This is partly the bereaved individual’s effort to remain close to the deceased.

The Funeral is a big part of the grieving process. It’s an opportunity to openly acknowledge the reality and the finality of death. In addition, it draws together a social support network, an opportunity to facilitate the grief response and to express feelings.


It helps loved ones accept the reality of the loss and to encourage grieving. A funeral is also an important time for an individual to be emotionally present and not medicated by a psychiatrist or their GP.


As the reality and grief sets in, grief can lead to serious depression, loneliness and emotional and social isolation. Doing things alone can be scary. Bearing this in mind when supporting or planning support for an Elder who’s recently lost a partner is vital to ensuring that their changing needs are being addressed and met.


Healing process

While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, some people may grieve in a way that is unhealthy. Being able to identify when your loved one is processing grief in a negative way can help you provide them with the support they need or find them professional help.


You can tell that your loved one is not coping well when their day to day functioning changes; the quality of the persons relationship with others changes (they become needy or they push people away). Asking your loved one if they are coping can help them talk about what they are going through.


It is important for friends and family with loved ones who have experienced loss to consider both the types of loss they are experiencing, as well as the kinds of reactions they are having. Because it is so often a time of intense darkness, supported by others or not, it is crucial that people keep a close eye on the Elder and give them as much love and care as appropriate.


We also understand that it can be difficult for many people, not knowing what to do or what kind of support to offer, especially when it seems unwanted. It is important to therefore consider guidance from a professional if things become overwhelming.


Finding the right support

Caregivers play an important role in helping Elders through the grieving process. Caregivers can give Elders the space to express themselves openly. Having someone to talk things over with can’t be underestimated.


Pets are also good companions for an Elder going through grief. Studies have shown great benefits of having pets and their healing powers. Companion pets can provide an interdependent relationship that alleviates loneliness and isolation, can encourage daily activity and routine, and can fulfil a person’s need for affection as well as a give them a sense of purpose.


There may be a few good days followed by weeks of bad days. But with time, patience, and the right support, there will be good days again.


If you or a loved one needs a shoulder to cry on or a hand finding the threads of a life that has unravelled, our caring and sympathetic team are here for you.

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