The Holidays: Helping Seniors Grieve a Lifetime of Marriage

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How can I face the holidays without my true love, my one and only love? A gentleman I recently visited is facing his first Christmas without his beloved. Enter gently and you may be able to bring peace to a broken heart.

The caregiver warns me that he is very grumpy. Please don’t take it personally, and please don’t tell him you’re from hospice.  I’m used to this. I have learned to kneel to approach a spouse who is grieving, angry, and sad. If I can’t kneel, I grab a chair and pull it up close (board-and-care facilities are short on cozy areas to have these types of conversations).  It may sound strange, but I equate this to walking up to a dog that you want to pet; it’s slow. You give the dog time to see you and feel you, and you wait till he comes to you. Then you pet the dog. It makes sense doesn’t it?

“Why can’t I just push a button and go with her!”  A spouse married for 61 years is now alone in a board-and-care, the bed next to him has been taken away. As I am listening to this very sad soul, I am searching for words to help him. Then I realize there are no words.  I can’t even come close to wondering: How does one go on after 61 years of marriage?

As I knelt down I said, “I am so sorry your wife passed away.”  He immediately began to cry.  It’s hard to watch but it is actually what I want to happen. The tears open the heart. I give him permission and safety to do this by the way I enter the room and kneel next to his chair. It honors him. The next thing that I say to him is, “Please tell me how you met your spouse?”

This works every time! The stories are so wonderful because most of the time these stories are from the 40s and 50s, such a different time in our world. The conversations go on from there. Openly validating sadness, then bring him or her to a happier time is a beautiful way to help an elderly person grieve.

Elderly people have had so much loss even before their spouses die. When the event happens they usually have to move from a house to a single room, or have to go live with a family member.  They have lost their privacy, maybe their pets, and the list goes on.  This man also lost the use of his legs in the last few months. Now that she is gone and he is feeling hopeless, he may decline quickly because he only wants her; everyone else is a stranger to him.

Helping the elderly grieve is a delicate process. The elderly many times can’t get out like a younger person would. They don’t journal, they are tired, their grief makes them even more exhausted.

It is important to validate their lives at this stage and talk about the wonderful strengths they have because of the time they grew up in. If there are pictures in the room comment on those, find out the stories behind them. Giving them your time is an incredible gift; in most cases, it will brighten their day and give them some peace.

Nina Impala

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NINA IMPALA is a highly intuitive multifaceted individual. This she combines with professional education in the End-of-Life Field. Certified by The American Academy of Bereavement for Spiritual Facilitation for the Terminally Ill, Nina also holds a BA in Human Services, is a graduate of Mueller College of Holistic Studies, Author of Dearly Departed What I Learned About Living From the Dying, and a Reiki Master Teacher. Currently she is the Bereavement Coordinator and Counselor for Gentiva Hospice in San Diego, California. For well over 19 years Nina has worked passionately in the hospice field using her gifts visiting the dying and educating families. In addition to working with hospice patients and their families Nina has also assisted families through tragic deaths. Nina works passionately helping them to understand that as much as we would like to have all the answer to the big questions accepting that we don't can be a big hurdle. Nina feels,finding peace in these situations is the greatest gift you can give to another human being. Nina lives in the San Diego area and can be reached at tutoringforthespirit@gmail.com

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