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Below is a case study from one of our friends at Lottie that raises awareness of grief and how we can best support older adults through bereavement.
We've also shared some thoughts from our care expert Katy on ways to better understand grief, how you can help people going through the grieving process and where to find support for coping with grief.
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Grief is a strange thing. We all feel it eventually, and yet its inevitability doesn’t bring with it any ease. We’ve grown, as humans, to adapt to so many things. But losing the people we love rips a hole in our heart.
“Your grandad would love this” is something my grandma says on a daily basis. I see her smile and I know she imagines him standing with us.
My grandad passed away 11 years ago and since then my whole family has been through the various stages of trying to process, understand and accept our grief.
I lived with my grandad for 4 years and he helped to raise me. He means so much to all of us, and his loss is very much felt.
I’ve read that when we lose someone we also lose a part of ourselves. I’m always scared that grandma seems lost to a wash of feelings she doesn’t know how to process.
A few weeks ago, my grandma took me to a house about 5 minutes from where I grew up. I’ve walked past the house so many times and she never mentioned she lived there. But that day, she stopped and pointed at a step that is now covered in moss and wearing away. She stood on it, outside this house and beamed at me.
“This is where your grandad and I had our first kiss”.
She often reminisces about their life together. But this moment was different - her face lit up so much and I could tell she remembered it as though it was yesterday, not over 60 years ago.
That town is covered in the memories and moments they shared together. For me, that day we stood on that step revealed so much to me about what my grandma carries around with her in the form of grief. They experienced a whole host of first, and then final moments together, with a bunch of middle moments that seem no less significant now he’s gone.
The moments that we so often take for granted at the time; sharing a bar of his favourite butterscotch chocolate or a Friday night chippy, have become memories we all cling to.
It’s why grandma never wants to move away - because she feels close to him and the life they’ve shared. She can walk down the road and see their step, or their old house, and feel that he’s here.
But, these memories can also bite at her and she can burst into tears at the drop of a hat. She’s trying to process and heal, but I can see she’s finding it really hard.
I do believe there’s a significant lack of support for older people who are experiencing grief and bereavement. Especially during those moments when all people want is to push others away, or for those that face lingering feelings when everyone else has bounced back. Then people become labelled as lonely and that’s that. The complexity of their loss is in itself, lost.
So, I started doing some research into what support I could offer my grandma and that’s when I came across the term ‘grief overload’. It happens when we go through a stage of significant grief; perhaps at the loss of multiple loved ones, and it affects our ability to look forward to the future, and to feel settled and safe. My grandma has lost a lot of friends and family in the past few years. I think she feels as though her world is becoming smaller and she doesn’t have someone to share the load with.
She now lives with my mum who supports her so lovingly. But we know the hand she really wants to hold is his.
My grandma once told me that she very much feels like ‘the last person left’ from her generation of our family and I’ve seen her self-confidence plummet. Grief has affected her in so many ways. It doesn’t just make her sad or down, but it can also make her panicked, scared, confused or anxious. So, I’m trying to make sure she feels a part of my world, just as much as I feel a part of hers.
I decided that we could try lots of new things together in an attempt to find some fun and excitement! A few years back, we went on a girl's trip to Spain for a few days and I saw her pace slow down. She’s always running a million miles an hour, which can be common when we’re trying to avoid our emotions. But on this trip, we stopped to look at old buildings and went for a midday cocktail just because we could. Now, whenever I see her, we try new food together or settle down to a new Netflix series. I’m sure you can imagine how fun it is to watch an accidental raunchy scene when you’re cuddled up with your grandma on the sofa. My grandad always used to say ‘I’m off to make a bacon sandwich’ when someone so much as kissed. So, now we always say that and in those moments we laugh to ourselves, imagining him there.
We sit and get the photobooks out, and we drive to places she’s got fond memories of, so she can re-tell us stories. We talk about her childhood and the places she’s lived and travelled to. And in those moments, we feel so close - her history is my history.
One piece of advice I would give to anyone who knows an older person in their life who’s lost someone, or who is grieving: please do think about reaching out and checking in on how they are. Don’t just ask them once, ask them a few times - gently. Then think about how you can bring them in and meet them with love and support. We need older people to also know it’s okay not to be okay. Because it’s so much more complex than just feeling sad - people may be trying to forge a new identity, be living alone for the first time and coming to understand their feelings when they may not have grown up with mental health support being the norm.
So, help them plant some new bulbs, pop over for a cuppa, go for a walk, listen to some music or do whatever it is that may create an environment in which they can open up. And if they speak about the person or people they’ve lost, please help them to embrace that. When my grandma says to me “your grandad would love this”, I say “yes, he absolutely would” and give her a big squeeze and a kiss. Just to let her know I’m with her, and so is he.
We hope this case study surrounding grief has given you a better idea of how bereavement can affect older adults and why a compassionate ear and having somebody to talk to can go such a long way.
Below, we've highlighted important things to understand about grief and different ways you can help people cope with it.
The impact of grief can hit harder for those of an older age. When supporting an elderly person after a bereavement, keep the following in mind:
Losing a friend, partner or relative means losing someone to socialise with. Having nobody to talk to can make coping with grief much harder in older age.
Studies have shown that the elderly are more likely to experience physical health issues after a loved one passes away, due to increased stress.
For many older adults, losing a loved one can lead to large lifestyle changes, such as moving into a care home or something similar.
Grief and bereavement can lead to feelings of confusion in older adults, including becoming more forgetful.
There are several services aimed at supporting people through grief and bereavement:
Try talking about your feelings to a friend, family member or health professional Support organisations such as Cruse Bereavement Support offer a compassionate and understanding ear
The Widow's Pension (or Bereavement Support Payments) aim to lessen any financial worries surrounding losing a loved one
Peer Support through Mind allows people with similar experiences to use these experiences in order to help one another
You can find a local NHS urgent mental health helpline in England
You can also access NHS psychological therapy services. These include counselling and guided self-help
The NHS lists local mental health services near you
We’re on a mission to support individuals and their loved ones throughout each stage of their later living journey. For more information, check out everything Lottie has to offer.