The elderly can experience grief differently than other adults. An older individual may think more about dying than living, because life is often more about reflection than about looking to the future. Because loneliness usually intensifies when older people lose a loved one, grief counseling for the elderly focuses on helping individuals overcome feelings of sadness and depression.
Identifying the Stages
According to a model explaining the stages of grief by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are common stages of grief. While some people do not experience the stages in sequence, other individuals may go through a certain stage more than once or enter into another stage simultaneously. But no matter what form a person's grief takes, Kubler-Ross says that most individuals experience at least two of these stages. Although individuals need time following the death of a loved one, anger and denial may not always be apparent at first. Others close to the individual need to pay close attention since some hide how they really feel.
The Institute on Aging warns that the loss of a loved one can trigger depression and a sense of isolation in older adults. A primary goal of grief counseling is to assist the individual in moving toward acceptance. Helping a person work through the process of grief involves getting the individual to the point where she can talk about the loss. Discussing the deceased person's role in the bereaved's life is one way to begin the healing process. People sometimes find comfort in knowing that their feelings of anger and guilt are normal. Help the person talk about her loss and show her that experiencing negative emotions does not discount the many happy memories.
Teaching Coping Strategies
Grief counseling teaches individuals coping strategies for the difficult moments, such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special times the person shared with the deceased. Although everyone copes with grief differently, grief counseling can help to identify unhealthy coping mechanisms. It's essential to let a grieving individual know that her feelings are both normal and expected. Like other grieving adults, the elderly are encouraged to attend support groups where they can meet and talk with others who are experiencing a similar loss. Grieving elders also need to seek outlets to fill their time. Getting involved in hobbies or other activities that the person used to enjoy can be therapeutic while recovering from the loss of a loved one.
Participating in Grieving Rituals
Bereaved elders may also find it helpful to take part in certain rituals as part of the grieving process. Wakes, funerals and graveside services are traditional grieving rituals following the death of a loved one. However, there are other ways to grieve. Many people find it helpful to write a letter to the deceased, fill a photo album with pictures of the person, make a donation in honor of the individual or support an organization or project that raises awareness about the disease from which the person died. Another approach that grief counselors sometimes use is to have the person talk to an empty chair as if the deceased person were actually sitting there.
- Counseling Outfitters: A Discussion of Coping Mechanisms and Counseling Techniques for Children and Adults Dealing With Grief and Bereavement
- Clerical Resource Site: Counseling the Terminally Ill and the Grieving
- Encyclopedia of Death and Dying: Grief Counseling and Therapy
- "On Death and Dying"; Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D.; 1969