Insights on Growing Older & Facing Death
Bereavement is a touchy subject. Many people shy away from those who are grieving, or offer platitudes such as, “I’m sorry for your loss.” We’re uncomfortable confronting others’ sorrow — which is why all those “With deepest sympathy” cards exist.
In H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald tackles loss from the depths of her grief over her father’s sudden death, with luminous prose that will resound in the heart chambers of anyone who has known such sorrow — in other words, just about all of us. She writes, “Here’s a word. Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob.’ Robbed. Seized. It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone. Shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try.”
As a naturalist, Macdonald takes readers on the bereavement journey with a feral heart, interweaving memories of her father with the story of a goshawk she acquired and raised following his death. Her memoir depicts the gravity of losing both time and one’s mind in the bowels of despair, to rise again in renewal and courage.
While grieving is a highly individual process, there are steps reverse mortgage professionals can share with the seniors (and family members) they serve to help expand awareness of bereavement, and to support those who are or will be grieving.
7 Steps to Support Those Who Are Grieving
- Acknowledge that you are grieving. This is not a time for a “stiff upper lip”, and we each go through the process at our own pace. Sometimes sharing what you’re experiencing can actually be beneficial for others, who may not have known how to open a dialogue with you.
- Grant yourself the grace and time to heal. Not everyone journeys through Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s well-defined stages of grieving and loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). Even when they do, it may not be in this order, or may involve only a few of the stages. Some of the stages can show up differently than you might expect: anger or depression could manifest as critical or stubborn behavior, for example.
- Be open to unexpected blessings along the way, as we discussed in Finding the Gift In Grief.
- Seek help in whatever form most appeals to you, such as a grief support group, counselor, friend, or clergyperson.
- Remember that grief is a normal human response to loss of some kind. It may not be the loss of a spouse, parent, child or other human loved one: for many people, loss of a job, loss of a pet, loss of a marriage through divorce, loss of the place you live due to a move (e.g., giving up the house you’ve inhabited for half a century for assisted living), or loss of your health due to illness or injury, can also be viable causes for grief.
- Keep yourself healthy. While it may be tempting when in emotional pain to neglect personal care or indulge in unhealthy forms of consolation, it’s important to take care of yourself, even if you let other life routines slide for a while. Perhaps a neighbor, friend, family member, church group or even hired caregivers can help ensure that the senior who is grieving has meals in the fridge, clean clothes, and is taking care of their body. Though it may seem minor, staying physically and mentally healthy is a great help in dealing with grief.
- Let non–essential tasks go for now. Some people may feel they have to get back on track quickly because their spouse/manager/kids/grandchildren, etc. are counting on them. But grieving does not happen in normal time, as Macdonald makes clear. Ask for and allow yourself a minimum of a few weeks, to a few months or longer, before you recommit to routine. After all, most companies provide maternity leave (and these days, often paternity leave as well). Taking time to recover from loss is just as important as welcoming a new life into your world.
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