Last week, I took my grandmother out so she could shop for a few essentials. Afterwards, we went out to lunch, then headed to the cemetery to visit her husband’s (my grandfather’s) grave. She never learned to drive, a decision she now regrets, as it forces her to rely on others for her transportation needs. But she had always depended on my grandfather, who was the driver in their family, and when he passed, things changed in many ways — that loss of mobility being a major one.
Whenever she refers to his death, she often describes it as “when he left me alone,” stating how helpless she feels without him. They made so many decisions together, she said, and it’s hard for her to make decisions on her own now.
I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? Grief and loss are powerfully transformative emotions, for better or worse. I couldn’t think of a way to comfort her other than to listen and empathize where I could, assuring her I missed him too, though in a different way (it was important that I respected the difference in our relationships).
Besides dealing with his loss and the emotions it brings, she’s dealing with the losses of many friends and family members too, not an uncommon occurrence for people in her age group.
Even in a society where active aging and increased longevity is becoming more of the norm, we must remember that in this life stage, seniors will encounter many difficult emotional experiences. We must support them through these ups and downs, offering comfort and a listening ear and never belittling their emotions or struggles.
Check out our Grief and Bereavement Resource Guide for helpful insights and information.