A note from the author: I proudly identify as a senior citizen! It’s a simple fact that I am now old enough to be able to claim that title. That does not mean that that I am too old to learn new things. Throughout my life I have made it a point to try to learn something new every day. I find it difficult to understand why anyone might suggest that learning new things, such as how to effectively deal with grief and loss, is beyond the ability of anyone of any age. The only thing that limits anyone, when it comes to learning new life skills (other than advanced brain dysfunction), is one’s unwillingness to make an effort or those around us who do not allow us the opportunity.
Over the years, we have had a number of staff from senior living centers voice the feeling that their residents do not need grief recovery assistance. The thoughts most often expressed were that their losses were long ago and that bringing them up would be upsetting. Yet another thought that has been voiced is that they might not have the ability to do the reading and writing assignments that are necessary to take effective recovery actions.
Who are the people in senior living communities?
There was a time that when seniors moved into nursing homes, as they were once called, because they were either quite ill or had lost their mental faculties. While that might still be the case with some skilled care centers, they make up only a fraction of senior living environments. Even in those locations, many of the residents are there primarily because of mobility issues and have few additional unrelated medical issues.
There are now a full range of senior living options designed to every level of need. Some may elect to move into independent or semi-independent living communities that offer options regarding shared dining, maintenance, and housekeeping services. Many of the people who elect these locations still lead an active community life and/or travel, but do not wish to be fully burdened with the challenges of maintaining a private home. Such living arrangements have a great deal in common with traditional condominiums and patio homes, with the difference being in that they have a minimum age requirement.
Those who need limited assistance in handling day-to-day matters might choose from the myriad of options with assisted living, or elect to have periodic in-home assistance. There are several companies whose business model is designed around offering options for those who wish to stay in their own homes.
These are but a very few of the options open to seniors. The point that we are trying to make is that our society has moved far beyond that once traditional model of a nursing home for the elderly. The vast majority of people who move into senior living environments are anything but frail, infirm, or lacking in mental abilities. To suggest that any of these people, other than perhaps those few with advanced dementia, would not be able to take grief recovery action, if they chose to do so, vastly underestimates their abilities. In truth, there are a number of educational institutions that specifically market on-going learning opportunities to senior citizens. Why should anyone selectively deny them to be chance to educate themselves about taking grief recovery action?
What do seniors grieve?
The average senior grieves the same things as people of any age! While most people associate grief with death, that is only one of over 40 stressors that can cause us to grieve. Grief is the normal and natural response to any change that we encounter in life. The only difference is that in having lived longer, seniors have had an opportunity to accumulate more loss experiences. Since grief is cumulative, and few have ever been educated in how to deal with it effectively, this means that the more unresolved grief we carry inside, the greater our burden.
There can be additional elements of discounted or disenfranchised grief that are found as people age. These include such things as:
- Retirement - Giving up a career is certainly a change from familiar behavior patterns. While most young people see this as an ultimate goal, but upon reaching it, many discover that they miss the elements of routine it brought to their lives as well as having to adjust to a different income level.
- Empty Nest - Our relationship with our children changes as we age. While we all hope that our children become responsible and move into their own lives as they mature, their lack of dependence on us can become more pronounced as we age. In many cases we find that they have a tendency to try to “parent” us, which is at times frustrating. There are times when we can find ourselves longing for and grieving that past situation where they looked to us for guidance, rather than offering it.
- Loss of Stamina - It can be a grieving experience to find that it now takes longer to accomplish what were once simply everyday tasks. It is not unusual for people to find themselves frustrated that certain tasks now seem far more daunting than was once the case.
- Loss of Health - As we age, we sometimes find that we are dealing with more health related issues. It can be as simple as taking longer in recovering from a cold or the flu. For others, it can be joint issues related to sports activities of the past that now come back to haunt us. There are any number of health issues that we face as time has taken its toll on our bodies.
- Changes in Living Situations - Whenever we move from one place to another, throughout our lives, there can be elements of grief related to that change. When we reach the point that independent living is no longer wise for us, it’s certainly a grieving event. Not only are we grieving that loss of independence, but also those things that we must leave behind when we downsize to a smaller living environment. This can be further complicated when a person elects to move in with their children and is no longer the “master” of their domain. No matter how many logical reasons that one may see or are offered as to why this is the best option, it can still be painful on an emotional level.
The list of non-death related changes we experience as we age is endless. Each one of these changes has grief attached.
Grief is an emotion!
Change is inevitable. It’s something that we deal with on a daily basis. The problem is that we try to deal with change strictly from a logical standpoint. Change, however, is something that can affect us on an emotional level. Logic has little to impact on our emotions. No matter how we try to convince ourselves that certain things are bound to change as we age. and no matter how logical this is, it can still be emotionally painful. It can become a grieving experience, even though others may fail to see it as such.
The value of having the opportunity to take Greif Recovery Action, to deal with these changes, is that it helps us be able to better process the feelings we have attached to these changes. It gives people the chance to say “goodbye” to the past so that we can open our hearts to say “hello” to a new future. This may not be the future about which we always dreamed, but that does not mean that we cannot take action to make the best of it.
The value of Grief Recovery in senior living situations
The Grief Recovery Method is designed to allow people to take action in dealings with the changes they experience in life! It’s certainly of value when it comes to dealing with emotional losses related to death, but it’s just as valuable when it comes to dealing with other changes as well. While many people feel a sense of relief in moving into a new place, where they no longer have to deal with the challenges of independent living, they can also feel a profound sense of grief in giving up their past independence. Offering them the option of taking action, to deal with that sense of loss, can make an enormous difference for them. It can give them a chance to successfully deal with the emotional pain of this change, so that they can fully embrace their new living environment.
When people enter a Grief Recovery Method Support Group, they may choose to work on the emotional pain that they carry related to a death, or any number of other losses. Taking this action is certainly not something designed to “depress” people, but rather to allow them to release that emotional pain that they carry inside. Whether they realize it or not, at the outset, that pain is impacting not only their ability to feel joy but it’s also working against their natural immune system. Studies have shown that people who are dealing with stress have a lessened ability to fight disease. Dealing, on an emotional level, with the stress that comes with a move to a new living environment will help them better deal with that situation.
The “Grief Recovery Handbook,” which is the written guide at the core of these Grief Recovery Method Support Groups, is not a traditional text book. It’s written to speak to the heart, rather than the head. It’s written in a conversational tone, which makes it both easy to read and to follow. The assignments are designed to help people work their way into both doing the homework and taking action. The group leader, who is a trained Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, will help each person work to the best of their abilities in successfully moving through the assignments.
One of the greatest gifts that any senior living facility can offer its residents is the opportunity to take effective grief recovery action. Having personally seen the positive changes these actions can bring into peoples’ lives, I know the value it has to offer. It gives people the chance to once again be able to enjoy living. Senior living and grief recovery are a natural fit, since both are focused on creating a safe and loving environment for life!
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