Last week we talked about the various emotions and the stages one goes through while coping with the loss of a loved one. This week, we will talk about how one can help others go through this process.

While mourning and grieving may be an extremely personal experience, it is essential for the family members to provide support and be there for those who have just experienced the loss. The most important thing one can do is to listen.

Listen

The importance of listening cannot be overstated. Take a cue from this personal experience:

One of our older neighbour lost her husband a few years ago. The couple had been married for 12 years. This wasn’t nearly as long as my parents had been together, but I think she actually took the loss worse. And this left her even more vulnerable as relatives and friends assumed that, since she had been a successful, independent career for most of her life, she would easily bounce back. Her needs were very different than those of my mom. She later told me that the kindest things people did for her following that death was just listen. Listen to her memories, listen to the plans they had for the future and listen to her share what made their relationship so special.

Sometimes when visiting the ones who are grieving, we tend to avoid the topic of the one who has just passed away or death altogether. While this may seem like a more comfortable, it is actually a source of great discomfort to the grieving. They need to talk about the loss and the more they talk about it, the faster they will be able to overcome it.

Pay attention to their mental and physical health

This stage of their lives poses some special risks for the elderly. Senior citizens are already at a higher risk for depression and mental health issues. Many may even begin to self-medicate with pain medicine or alcohol, leading to addiction problems. If your loved one does not seem to be doing well mentally, encourage him or her to seek professional counselling. Some may feel comfortable talking to a religious authority. Others may not know who to turn to for assistance. Help find a referral service and assure them that counsellors are now viewed as any other health professional. Many elderly citizens grew up with outdated stereotypes and may still view seeking counselling as a sign of weakness. Assure them this is not the case and, if you’ve ever received counselling, perhaps share this with them. It will help remove any misgivings.

Most importantly, be there in the time after the death.

The weeks following the death of a loved one are busy. Relatives often visit and the house is full for days after the funeral. Everything tapers off after a few weeks or maybe a month or two. Then the house becomes very quiet. Children have returned home. Friends have returned to work and the day-to-day details of life. This is when the reality of their new situation – life alone – sets in. This is when they need you most of all. And the simplest gestures now mean so much. Drop in on your way home from work with a small bouquet picked up from the market. Make a point to get together to watch a favourite team or an anticipated movie. Invite your friend out to lunch or, even better; invite him or her over to share a meal with your family.

The loss of a loved one is never easy. The kindness shown when a senior loses a spouse will never be forgotten.

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