In the past two years I’ve lost three good friends to various ailments. Two died of sudden heart attacks and the third from a long battle with cancer. One of the friends was only fifty-eight years old. I wasn’t prepared to say good-bye. And, when I attended my fiftieth high school reunion a few months back I learned that twenty-nine of my former classmates had passed away. Somehow, although we all know death is a real part of life, we are still shocked when it happens. Every day seniors face the loss of their beloved friends and spouses. They enter into a state of shock which eventually turns to other emotions such as fear, numbness, anger and sometimes guilt. All of these emotions are a normal part of the grief cycle, but they are difficult nonetheless. How can we help those going through this time of change? How can we prepare ourselves for future losses? Here are some tips from those who have experienced the painful loss of friends and partners.
Let others help: There are hundreds of tasks to be done when someone dies. There is paperwork, decision-making and taking care of the basics of everyday life while you may be numb from grief. Let friends and relatives take care of as many of these tasks as possible. There will be time ahead to be strong and independent.
Keep busy: After the busy hubbub of a funeral or memorial and the initial taking care of business, there will come a quiet time when the rest of the world returns to normal. Your life is different now. Little by little choose to stay busy, take care of the chores of life and begin to select your new activities.
Give: When you’re ready, begin to volunteer or otherwise help others. Nothing is as satisfying as knowing you can still be productive. Local schools, hospitals, social services and church outreaches can always use willing hands. Sharing your time is a great gift to the community.
Seek Grief Counseling or a Support Group: It is very healing to share your grief with others and see that there are many others going through the same loss and pain. You’ll learn coping strategies and enjoy the release of talking about your feelings and experiences.
Take Care of Yourself: Be sure to eat well, sleep enough and get exercise. Refrain from covering up your pain with alcohol. Be proactive in getting adequate nutrition, seeing your doctor when necessary and otherwise protecting your well-being. Be aware of the signs of depression which may isolate you from others and contribute to your pain.
Actively Seek a Social Life: Join a new club or class. Go to the local senior center, or find a new church group. Get out of your home and be with people—social isolation is one of the biggest contributors to depression after a death in the family.
Stay Joyful and Thankful: There is much to enjoy in life. Take a positive attitude and when the difficult times come, you’ll have resources to fight them.
Nothing can take away the pain of losing a loved one. While time does lessen the hurt, you’ll always mourn your loss. But life can be full and enjoyable and you have gifts to share with others. Stay positive and productive, avoid isolating yourself and find ways to interact with others to laugh, celebrate and get the most out of each and every day.