Grieving is individual but there are some commonalities
Recently, I attended a Grief seminar and learned many strategies for helping someone who is grieving. Older adults fit this category as they are often losing spouses, friends, careers, social status (when they retire), financial status and the list goes on. Seventy-five (75%) percent of all deaths occur in persons 65 or older. Many of my clients would lose a spouse or have a health incident that they could not get past. They would become stuck and could not live their life in the present. They stayed in the past.
Grief is experienced differently over the life span. Research has shown that the early parent-child attachment bond is crucial to determining how easily a bereaved person moves through the disorganization phase of the grief and into the reorganization phase of the grief process. It is important for the bereaved person to experience the pain and process it as well as to establish the meaning of the relationship with the deceased. Sometimes, they must be nudged to increase functioning in the present and to develop hope for the future.
How you can help someone who is grieving
Loss/grief is experienced in the left side of the brain. One of the ways to help someone through grief is to engage them in right brain activities such as art projects, crafts, poetry, singing and other creative endeavors. They are still processing their grief while doing these activities and it activates their pleasure center. Women tend to express their grief verbally and through journaling. Men experience grief differently. They may do a project or go out for a night of male bonding. They are more private and less expressive. Exercise, meditation, yoga, tai chi and other forms which utilize breath and physical exertion will help in processing grief.
Learning how to relax the sympathetic nervous system is a key factor in processing grief. During grief, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This starts the fight or flight response. The person feels tense and cannot relax. They are in their left side brain. When they switch to a right-side brain activity, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the relaxation response. It is the more creative, holistic, intuitive, visual and sensory side. When a person is grieving, they are stuck in the left side brain but when they are in a creative activity, they free themselves from the grief temporarily allowing them to process.
If you become aware of someone who has recently lost someone dear to them, check on them frequently. Some people withdraw and stop eating. They need people around them. This often happens during the illness and funeral arrangements but after everyone leaves, reality hits. Set up a phone tree schedule so they are getting regular contact. Bring food to make sure they are eating or invite them out to eat. Social interaction is extremely important. If they seem to be withdrawing, find support groups in the area and accompany them to the first meeting. If that doesn’t improve the situation, set an appointment with a grief counselor. Some people need to talk about their relationship with the deceased and to process with a professional who will help them take steps to rebuild their life.