Seniors: Dealing with the inevitable

Dealing with the inevitable

Linda is in the process of getting her husband Bill moved to hospice care. She understands clearly the implications of this decision and what the future holds for her. She is struggling to make sense of this tragic turn of her life and is dealing with the inevitable — the impending loss of a loved one.

I met Linda’s family a couple of years ago, around the time Bill got his diagnosis. I clearly recall the details of that meeting like a movie flash back. The couple had retired from their employment, and was finalizing their plans to travel the world when, to their disappointment, Bill got diagnosed with a progressive debilitating illness.

Fast-forward two years, and Linda is now facing the ultimate loss — the loss of her partner. This is not just Linda’s story; in fact this could be our story too.

Right from childhood we experience loss of, or separation from, friends and relatives. We gradually accept it as the reality of life and learn to cope with it. But as we age, these losses become more frequent.

While it is much easier to find new friends to replace the ones lost in our youth, it becomes increasingly difficult as we age, because of our progressively shrinking social circle. These twin phenomena of more frequent losses and dwindling social connections lead to permanent voids in our life.

Anyone who has experienced the loss of a partner would agree that it is hardest of all losses one experiences in their life time. The loneliness and emptiness caused by the absence of the life companion can have a grave impact on a person’s physical and mental health.

There are several factors at work at this stage, the interplay of which determines the way grief is processed. If the person passes away following a lengthy period of illness and suffering, families get an opportunity to say goodbye, and experience some sort of relief when the person passes. Death is viewed as a deliverance from suffering for the departed individual, though grief remains.

However, when death happens unexpectedly, due to accidents, silent heart attack, or in sleep, though the person died without much suffering, the bereaved family finds it harder to accept the person’s death and process grief.

Having a rich network of close connections can always go a long way in helping the bereaved spouse cope with the loss of a soulmate.

What are some of the healthy coping strategies that we can adopt? Some people draw from their strong spiritual beliefs. Others derive comfort from their religion and involvement with religious groups. Some others try to stay close to their adult children and grandchildren. Still others try to find new companions and soul mates.

Women tend to be more resilient than men, and they derive comfort from their children, grandchildren, and female companions. Men seem to be lacking in those deep connections and struggle to cope with the loss of their partner.

Some older adults do not cope in a healthy way, developing severe depression, seeking comfort in alcohol, and other unhealthy activities, with serious consequences to their health, well being and longevity.

This does not have to be the case. There are several organizations offering grief support programs and services for bereaved individuals and families in Central Alberta. These include faith organizations such as Crossroads Church, Sacred Heart Parish, local organizations such as Catholic Social Services, Parkland Family Services, Family Services of Central Alberta, Alberta Health Services, Gathering Place, and Shalom Counseling.

Red Deer Hospice, Widowed Support Network, and Golden Circle Senor’s Centre run bereavement support groups.

Grief is natural and it takes time to process grief and develop healthy coping strategies. Some people take a bit longer than the others, and a few others suffer unnecessarily. Ultimately almost all of us can transcend our grief and gradually get back to life, with adequate support. If you are struggling to cope, please reach out and connect with these service providers without delay. For a full list of resources available in Red Deer and area please visit www.reddeervsu.ca

Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in Gerontology, is a past resident of Red Deer. Please send your comments to padmajaganeshy@yahoo.ca

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