The passing of a loved one is a universal experience and every person will experience loss or heartache, at some point in their life. Some people appear upset, some don’t. Grief is individual, dependent on age, gender, developmental stage, personality, their normal stress reactions, the support available, their relationships or attachment, other death experiences and how others react to their own grief around them.
Children are also affected by death of the significant others and especially those who provide their basic needs of shelter, food, protection and love which are all crucial in their development. Infants experience the feelings of loss in reaction to separation from their main caregiver. When children reach the age of 9 or 10 years old, they have learned that death becomes unavoidable, however, death is final or scary but they believe that death happens most to old people, not to children. Adolescents comprehend that death is permanent, irreversible, affects everyone and they may present with the behaviour that indicates denial. Adolescents become more thoughtful about death as they are now capable of mature/thoughtful reflections on the meaning of life/death. When confronting their own death, adolescents may struggle with their existential questions on the probing, philosophical questions that get down to the nature of who we are or why we are even here. This carries on throughout adulthood, till their end or death.
All adults fully comprehend the impact of death and the full complex range of responses of different people in different situations increased sensitivity and openness to others and alternate ways of coping. When adults are confronting their own death, they feel anxious and uncomfortable. Some may seek assistance from their elders or spiritual/pastoral leaders.
Elderly people have gone through a life of change or adaption, which is the difference between old adults and those at earlier stages of development, they begin to expect loss as they ages and they must work through the grief of multiple deaths which provides some preparation for their own passing. Elderly spend a lot of time reminiscing thinking of what they have in their own lives. Often when others die they are left wondering why they are still there. The world becomes lonely, sometimes unfriendly, after the loss of spouse. Sometime they wonder if God has forgotten their files. The elderly begin to anticipate their own death and contemplate the end of life, death becomes a bigger part of life during old age. A large part of aging is experiencing multiple and sequential non-death losses, including the physical changes in family, job, social roles and also working through shifts in their cognitive thinking.
It is important to note that an individual’s grief reaction is generally determined by the circumstances surrounding the loss, the social support, the cultural influences, media intrusions, whether they are high profile losses or if the individual already has multiple stressors. Generally adult struggle with feelings of responsibility for others and may be ambivalent about meeting own needs. They may perceive tears/sadness as weaknesses or develop an unhealthy need for drugs to numb the pain. Grief becomes complicated as a result of sudden, unexpected or traumatic deaths as grief become more difficult for everyone to understand or comprehend. Some grieving individuals may never know what fully happened. The death or circumstances could have been preventable. The body of the deceased may never be found or look mutilated. Further investigations may be required, the media may be interested due to public curiosity and people must also have to deal with the overwhelming intrusion. Older people are more prone to experience complicated grief in response to the death of a child or spouse.
Everyone who is bereaved needs time to process the reality or circumstances of the situation. Everyone needs to feel safe, that someone is there for them, respecting them and allowing them to work through the loss in their own way. Allow plenty of time for questions, the expression of time for questions, the expression of feelings, sharing memories or to participate in ceremonies/remembrance activities. It may be appropriate or helpful for them to view the body or even take part in the funeral or memorial service. Children can let off balloons, read a poem or a eulogy, carry flowers and many other things to contribute service and this will help with this grieving process.
Adults and the elderly should be encouraged to take time to attend to own feelings as well as others provide opportunities for expression/discussion of conflicting feelings, to maintain social connections with their peers or family. Empathic listening and tangible expressions of support with the preparation of meals, or taking care of the elderly family members or childcare. Opportunities to share memories with others are known to be helpful any time.
For elderly, it may be important to help conduct informal/formal life reviews to emphasize strengths or contributions to life. Help may be required to identity or participate in new activities/roles/relationships. Encourage living wills, making plans for the future or to just sit and talk about their feelings or fears, death or dying. At any point during the grieving process, if a person is presenting complex grief symptoms, they should attend professional help, whether it be a counsellor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist, anyone who deals in helping grieving individuals. Not everyone has the skills to work on such issues as stress or death or grief and in such cases professional help or a support group of sorts would benefit them greatly.
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