By: Sara Bailey
If you’ve lost someone you love, you already know how difficult it can be to hear that dreaded news. While coping with the passing of a loved one, we may experience emotions ranging from grief to shock to disbelief or even depression. The loss hurts us. The memories that we cherish bring bittersweet tears as we mourn the person we loved.
If you have a senior loved one who is dealing with the loss of a spouse or other close loved one, it can be a particularly difficult time for both of you. As our loved ones age, they experience an increasing number of losses. Grief and depression can have an impact on their health, their emotions, and even their life expectancy.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to help. You can’t take away their pain. However, you can offer support, compassion, a shoulder to cry on while they grieve, and access to professional services (if needed).
How common is depression?
1 in 5 Americans are currently living with mental illness, which remains a leading cause of disability. As you might imagine, mental illness has extreme financial consequences and creates a tremendous burden on your loved one and their family.
Those who are living with mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier than those who aren’t affected by it. Add to this the fact that, among seniors, addiction rates are rising and suicide rates are higher than any other population, and you have a bad combination.
Although depression and mental illness sound grim, they don’t have to be. Recovery is possible with proper treatment. No one is without hope.
How to support your loved one
To support a loved one who is depressed and grieving, start by deciding to visit often. Time together is one of the best gifts you can give to anyone, especially during a time of grief. And consider bringing Fido along: according to WhatsYourGrief.com, just having the chance to pet a furry friend releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin and causes a dip in our levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
During your conversations, consider your words and facial expressions. Don’t flinch or change the subject if they bring up their deceased loved one. Know that they won’t simply “move on” or “get over it.”
Rather than asking how your loved one is doing, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who unexpectedly lost her husband, recommends asking, “How are you doing today?” This shows compassion for the fact that your loved one’s moods and grief process will fluctuate from one day to another.
Sometimes the house itself is full of negativity from recent events, so clearing bad energy from your loved one’s home can be a gift of re-establishing the home as a safe place. This can be as simple as airing the space, letting in more natural light, and eliminating excess clutter.
Also, setting up a nonprofit in the loved one’s honor can help bring some peace and a sense of purpose and meaning to those loved ones left behind. A fitting memorial can be the legacy of how a person lives on through the good works of the nonprofit.
It can also be helpful to reduce the stigma surrounding depression and mental illness. Men, likewise, may find it more difficult to ask for help. Those who are suffering from depression can find help by talking about their problems. Being unafraid to tell others about any potential issues can help with healing – and, hopefully, reduce the chances of suicide or chronic health conditions.
Trauma survivor and author, Terry Gobanga, wrote a book about unexpectedly losing her husband. While grieving, Gobanga says, “The most important thing is to mourn.” To that end, don’t try to fast-forward your loved one’s healing process. Instead, just be there to support him or her through it. The healing process starts with giving ourselves permission to feel whatever emotions we are feeling.
Death may be inevitable for us all, but it only causes us to lose our loved ones in their physical form. Your loved one will always have memories to cherish. With help from people like yourself, your loved one can hopefully begin to work through this difficult time. Good luck!
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