The death of a loved one from cancer can be a very painful experience and it can be especially difficult for older adults. As a person ages, it is more likely they will have to deal with loss and may be confronted with several losses during a short time span. Such losses can call attention to their own impending mortality, and, in turn, it can be a perfect storm for overwhelming grief.
One of the most common experiences that cause an older adult to feel grief is as a result of watching a loved one die from cancer. As with cancer or other long-term illnesses, for the loved ones of the person afflicted, perhaps the hardest part is watching someone they love decline in health, even suffer, and living with the knowledge of the inevitable in the case of a terminal diagnosis. This can weigh heavily on their mind for months or years as their own loved one suffers with the disease. When a loved one has cancer, while the illness is very painful for the spouse, it affords the individual time to prepare for the loss. This is known as preparatory grief.
When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse will have lost more than their husband or wife. They may have lost their best friend and the one person they were able to count on for care and companionship. Grief is a normal reaction.
It’s perfectly normal to grieve the loss of a loved one. Typically, the most intense type of grief is when it concerns a loved one or a spouse. The bigger the loss, the deeper the grief. Although recovery from this loss takes time, there is no “normal” timetable for the grief process.
There are a number of physical symptoms of normal grief that range from shortness of breath to loss of weight, or disrupted sleeping or eating patterns. Behavioral changes can also accompany normal grief, including withdrawal from friends, work, and social situations, forgetfulness, and an inability to concentrate.
Sometimes, an older adult continues to grieve for a much longer-than-normal time and they become depressed because the grieving process is not resolved. This is when normal grief becomes abnormal grief — sometimes referred to as complicated grief. The person feels stuck in an intense moment of loss and may not find comfort in happy memories of the person, instead interpreting them as sad and resulting in a yearning for what they cannot have again.
Some older adults who are depressed and suffering from abnormal grief may welcome death would be welcome and begin entertain suicidal thoughts. If your loved one expresses suicidal thoughts, It is recommended that those suffering from prolonged grief seek the help and counsel of a licensed health professional to treat them. Additionally, loved ones of adults who are exhibiting warning signs of suicidal thoughts during a bout with abnormal grief should be sure all firearms are removed from the place of residence and suggest that they call the national anti-suicide hotline number for older adults, 1-800-273-TALK or the Friendship Line for the Elderly, which is the only 24-hour hotline for older adults in the U.S. operated by the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services.
How to Help with Geriatric Grief from Cancer
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a grieving older adult is to spend time with them. According to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center, knowing that they are not alone and that someone understands their feelings can help them to move through the stages of grief. Also, spending time with them will help reduce feelings of isolation.
It is important to understand that an older adult may need more time to deal with their grief than someone younger. They may not be fully aware of their feelings of loss, and giving them the time they need to deal with their feelings can help with cancer grief. Geriatric individuals may not want to talk about their feelings, but you should encourage them to do so.
Finally, watch your loved one for signs that grief has turned into depression. These signs can include feelings of worthlessness and no longer enjoying their favorite activities. In addition, it is important to watch for any indication that the older adult is having suicidal thoughts or feeling that an early death would be welcomed.
The loss of a loved one from cancer always brings a period of mourning and grief. Giving of your loved one time and companionship can go a long way to help them deal with their feelings and to begin to enjoy life again.
Did you help your loved one get through a period of grief? Share your tips with us in the comments below.