Senior Wellness: How to Handle Your Grief
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As a senior, you’ve lived a long life, and very few things can surprise you anymore. However, no matter what you’ve been through or how many ups and downs you’ve had, nothing can prepare you for the loss of a spouse. Managing that kind of grief weighs heavily on your heart, mind, and body.
Grief takes a serious toll, especially on seniors, no matter how resilient they are. Wellness and coping with loss is an important skill to develop, particularly for seniors who deal with aging, grief, and change. As seniors grieve, it’s vital they have a safe, supportive space to express their roller coaster of emotions. However, some seniors struggle with the grieving process, especially if the death was tragic or unexpected. Here are some ways to manage grief that lasts longer or is more severe than normal.
Sometimes grief makes it extremely difficult to manage your daily tasks. However, when seniors survive the death of a spouse due to substance abuse, they may feel an overwhelming sense of guilt, thinking they could have done more to stop it. Surviving seniors may consider the death of their spouse unfair or could be in denial if the situation was particularly traumatic.
In those instances, emotions can be incredibly complex. In fact, sometimes seniors feeling this level of grief might even act apathetic, unwilling to talk about the death or about the spouse. This often occurs with the shame or stigma associated with death of a loved one to substance abuse. It’s important that seniors find a comfortable space to open up, whether by journaling, visiting a mental health professional, or confiding in a trustworthy friend.
Grief that lasts too long or goes too deep can also trigger clinical depression, especially with a senior who has a history of mental health issues. When grief transitions into depression, the seniors may have trouble sleeping, concentrating, making decisions, or eating. Along with depression may come with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actions. Grief and depression this deep and persistent might make suicide seem like the only way to stop the pain.
If you or a senior you know are showing signs of depression, it’s crucial to get help right away. While some people move through this on their own, studies show that depression in seniors can worsen physical health, as well.
When you’re ready, find ways to acknowledge the loss. There is no one right way to manage grief, but there are healthy ways to encourage healing. First, don’t avoid the emotions of grief—like sadness, anger, and guilt. No matter how bad you feel, stay focused on your health and nutritional needs. Grief can be stressful on your body, so joining a fitness class, taking your dog for a walk with a friend, or taking a cooking class can help you stay motivated.
If you want to create a process for healing, consider planting a garden or creating a scrapbook that helps you remember your loved one, while also moving through the pain. Sometimes experiencing grief with your senses, like sight, touch, and sound, can be therapeutic. You may even want to look into online wellness courses for seniors.
The important thing to remember is to watch out for the warning signs that grief is growing into something more substantial. Since there’s no one way to grieve or even a standard amount of time, it can be hard to recognize when it’s time to get help. Open up to a strong support network so you can move through a healthy grieving process.
In this blog I am going to explore is ‘Self Esteem The Holy Grail of Happiness’, along with the concept of what self-esteem is and the reality of how to get to a high self-esteem. My first thoughts on the reality of having high self-esteem is when I heard the lyrics of a track called ‘Youth’ by a band called Daughter. The lyrics say ‘We are the wild youth, chasing visions of our futures, one day we’ll reveal the truth, that one will die before he gets there.’
Every time I hear this song I am still mortally wounded by these lyrics despite the fact I have heard it a thousand times. It hits home right in the same place as Irvin Yalom’s ‘Human beings must face up to their ultimate meaninglessness of their existence, that there exists no grand design in the universe, no guidelines for living other than that, that the individual creates.’
It strikes me right in the section of my thinking where I store my failures, it makes me think about what dreams I will fail to fulfil by the time I reach the end of my life, So for me, there is an advantage of thinking about this at the stage of life I am at now. I am not at the end of my life (hopefully) so thinking about these things offers me room to evaluate how I might satisfy my dreams.
One dream I can safely say has passed, is my desire to emigrate to Australia. It was my dream ever since I was a boy, let me play you the scene I dreamed of;
It was warm,
I was diving into a swimming pool,
The coast line was in the distance,
There was luscious greenery all around,
The sun bather nearby backed up how peaceful the scene was,
I felt content and fuzzy and warm inside,
It felt like paradise………………. Then my mum woke me up for school!!
This dream carried on through adolescence as the want for a warmer climate prevailed along with a growth in desire to see more of the world. Then there was the scene of my Uncle Dave a man who did emigrate to Australia with my Aunty and cousins, passing me a bag of maps and a book about how to obtain Australian citizenship. For me this was like one man passing on his bag of dreams to aid another man’s dreams. Unfortunately this was to be the last such gesture from a man I just loved sharing company with.
My holdback in my earlier adult years was I didn’t have adequate qualifications and when I did, it seemed that the dream had passed. My family seemed well rooted in their lives and our extended family had grown even more. This for me has took some processing, some acceptance, my self-esteem felt smashed I took a long time exploring this in my own counselling before I could make peace with it.
The definition of self-esteem in the oxford dictionary is ‘Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.’
The thought that high self-esteem was a place we should all strive to be was a concept designed to help America out of recession, the mood was low, and productivity was low so there was a need to create a social vaccine to get the economy going again.
According to Will Storr (2017) The idea that we needed to raise self-esteem in people in order to create a thriving economy came about by a research project done by Carl Rogers. He was researching what the effect of high self-esteem had on people. An American Politian got hold of this idea also and whilst Rogers abandoned the quest as it became unfounded, the American Politian continued with the research and he found that if you measure self-esteem in young people that had good exam results, they all had high self-esteem.
The first idea was that good self-esteem equals good exam results, not good exam results equals’ high self-esteem. The American Politian was able to force through the idea that high self-esteem is the Holy Grail to happiness and success rather than holding that self-esteem is merely significant. High self-esteem is great but ‘it’ alone is not a saving grace for success.
How we work with this concept growing up is when we receive messages of praise for the things we have achieved. ‘Well done that’s a fantastic picture.’ ‘Look at your pretty dress.’ Don’t you look smart and handsome in your new clothes.’ We tell our children ‘You can achieve the world if you put your mind to it, anything is achievable.’
From a young age our value is determined by the praise we get either from our family members or school teachers. This has translated into I must have a good career and dress well in order to feel good about myself.
Some parents myself included have chosen names outside the normal prescribed names of our culture in order for the child to stand out.
There are things us as individuals can’t achieve or in the very least find it extremely hard to achieve. I for example will never become a Calvin Klein underwear model, but I can be assured if I tried to become one I would get pretty miserable in my failure of trying to get there.
I hold that it is more beneficial and less demanding to assert that there are things we are good at and things we are not. I can’t achieve everything and my skillset is variant from other peoples. If I try my best at something, I know that is the best I can offer it, if that is not enough at least I tried.
I am wondering if it is at all healthy to look at self-esteem as a measure of our well-being particularly if what we believe we have to achieve in order to raise our self-esteem is either to hard to achieve or won’t improve our self-esteem at all. As a matter of fact the hunt for the things that raise our self-esteem could create huge disappointment and send our self-esteem the other way when we realise that it is either unobtainable or did not improve your well being at all!
Will Storr (2017) goes on to suggest that we are products of our environment and of a political system where it is of benefit to society if we are led to believe we can achieve absolutely anything it becomes the fault of those that find themselves in poverty if they end up there. We become less empathic if we believe we are all capable of reaching the stars to those that don’t. We then use the same measure of punishment on ourselves when we don’t reach the stars.
What do I mean by reach for the stars I guess it’s the conditions we put on ourselves, to own our own homes, to have nice cars, to dress well, eat well, be a good parent, be a good friend, have the perfect body image, have the perfect social media image, have a noble career, be successful to name just a few of the conditions we may place upon ourselves.
We look outwards at the success stories we see on a day to day basis if it’s not through our mobile phones and social media, it is through advertisements, it’s via the celebrity obsessed tabloid papers and magazines. We see these success filled examples and strive to be that, I think this is partly what the point Carl Jung (1968) was trying to make in Man and His Symbols. We are products of the world we see around us and we sift through the information that we process and make a choice out of what these things we want to become.
In a world where everyone is trying to trick the world from seeing the real versions of themselves due to hiding behind snap chat filters, high end German motors and Ralph Lauren clothing the version of the world we see around us is false. Therefore the standards are unobtainable and I believe this is part of the reason mental health statistics are rapidly rising, suicide and self-harm statistics are through the roof. How do I believe we make these statistics go the other way?
I believe we need to recognise that we can’t be everything to everything, there are some goals we just will not reach. So stop trying to fit square pegs in round holes and look at what things we are good at and let this be the trade-off for what we are not.
Disengage with social media, not completely if you don’t want to but limit the time you spend plugged in.
When accessing social media or looking at newspapers or listening to how perfect some one’s life is have your bullshit filter fully engaged! No we don’t have to call anyone out on it, but just being aware of the artificial glaze that is applied to most things we see today especially via the media and social media.
I hold that self-exploration within a counselling setting, identifying who you are aside from your cultural and societal influences can be a step in the right direction towards clarity and life fulfilment. It can be a space for you to explore what are realistic life challenges and sift through what expectations are put upon us.
Finally and most importantly pay attention to the relationships you hold around you, your family members, your friendships, your work colleagues. Give these relationships your full attention because believe me when I say the key to mental health and well-being is holding good relationships with the people around you.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, you will find many more at brighter-pathways.co.uk as well as contact information for counselling if this is something you would like to pursue.
Take care, Nick
I have in recent times been shocked by the suicide of Chester Beddington, I was equally as shocked by Robin Williams a short time earlier. These are the suicides we hear of, there are many people who commit suicide with barely any mention at all.
I live in Bristol not too far from Clifton Suspension bridge which is a bit of a suicide hot spot, it was the site where Shirley Bassey’s daughter met her demise, also 127 people jumped to their death between 1973 and 1986 (93 male 34 female) a fairly easy search turns out another 17 people between 2008 and 2013. If my memory serves me correctly there have been 3 people this year (2017) alone.
An interesting story to come out of this little bit of research, was the story of Sarah Ann Henley, a local girl (Easton) had a blazing row with her boyfriend, then went to Clifton suspension bridge and jumped off. Miraculously, her dress acted as a parachute along with strong winds cushioned her fall. She survived with some minor injuries. Sarah Ann lived for over 50 years after this event.
A 2006 judgement by the Swiss Federal Court ruled that anyone of sound mind, irrespective of their medical condition, had a right to determine when to end their lives. Approximately 1000 people every year now go to Switzerland to end their own lives. Whilst it would seem a large portion of these people are terminally ill, it is fair to assume that some of these people are not ill.
I believe a focus on our end opposed to a focus to get there can be a life changing experience Confucius an ancient Chinese philosopher said
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we only have one.”
It would seem for many a real existential crisis is required before we reach this realisation. What do I mean by an existential crisis? This could be a near death experience or illness, seeing someone from your past and seeing their aging process, the loss of someone close to you, a birthday or anniversary, estate planning or possibly even a dream.
We live in a society where we are not open and honest about our own mortality only if it is a passing joke about how old one is getting. For me I think the only thing I can safely assume is that my demise will not be traumatic for me because I will know nothing about it. I will return to the same state I did before I was born. If there is a state of consciousness after death then that is potentially a bonus. My assumption that there is not, is a wake up call in the here and now. If life is temporary I need to stand to attention and make the most of the life I have got.
Was this the thinking of Sarah Ann Henley when she jumped off the bridge? Probably not, but I wonder if this replaced her thinking when she survived it, after all she went on to live over 50 years afterwards. I believe for many who have committed suicide they have chosen a painfully permanent solution for temporary thinking. Our mental health can be so complex it would be naïve to think a whole life time can pass with out a single thought of wondering what life would be like if it wasn’t.
A real honesty is needed amongst people, life is hard, it is full of challenges, challenges of acceptance, conflict, survival. I would be lying to myself and all around me if I said that I have never wondered if death would be easier than life.
Suicide maybe the option for some and as much as that is not my call, it is not my right or anyone else’s to take that from anybody who genuinely has decided that they want to end their life. I would hope though that the people whom feel and think this way, have had real and open conversations in the past where discussions about the permanency of suicide have been made clear as well as how temporary thoughts can be and the swiftness that life can change.
I write this blog with the belief that we all aspire to be the best we can be, sometimes we get lost along the way. All we need is faith in ourselves that we can be the best we can be, sometimes a little help believing in that faith could be all that is needed when faced with thoughts of suicide.
In our society today mental health services have been stripped bare. In order to access the mental health crisis team I have known of a few occasions that accessing this service has meant people in mental health crisis having to go to A&E. We need real conversations with people hopefully before mental health crisis happens so we can be prepared for it when it does.
Do I think this blog alone will make people at the mercy of their own lives think twice, no. I would hope that it lights something up somewhere about the tragedy that is suicide. I want to just end with the message.
Suicide is forever
Thoughts are temporary
Life can change in an instant.
If anyone has been affected by suicide or indeed have suicidal thoughts, please reach out to your nearest and dearest, where that’s not possible maybe I can help, get in touch www.brighter-pathways.co.uk
I sit here alone as I write this, this piece is another of my attempts to put my own individual creative stamp on the world. Whilst writing this I am being distracted from the ultimate loneliness of my existence. Yes I have a family, I have hundreds of friends in my face book friends list, I have work colleagues, neighbours, I also make a point of making my existence known to the people I encounter on a daily basis. An example of this is the rapport I have with the people that work in my local shop. I always make my friendly presence felt. This morally boosts my existence in the world when I am greeted with a friendly response when I encounter these people on a daily basis when I go to buy my odds and sods.
This part of me most likely exists because my ancestors were hunter-gatherers. You stood a better chance of survival if you stayed in a pack making you less easy to pick of by other hunter gatherers or say dinosaurs. To avoid being lonely is an, in built survival mechanism to elaborate this part of our selves further. Have you ever moved to a different district and notice you quite quickly start using local lingo? Or you start spending time with somebody new and you say something that sounds like them? This is your brain working hard to help you fit in so you don’t get looked at as an outsider, your brain wants you to fit in because it has primitive instincts to survive.
Do you sometimes feel lonely in a room full of people?
Then there is the loneliness we feel when we are in a room full of people and yet somehow you still feel alone. You notice everyone talking and there is something nagging you, it feels uncomfortable and could be easily mistaken as unpleasant.
Does any of this ring true to you? What if I said there is another side of loneliness that you may not have put much thought into. Culturally in Britain this is not something that’s shouted about and that is the ultimate mortality of our existence. Ultimately there is an ending of our life and it could well have and most likely will have a different end time to all the people I mentioned earlier ie friends family etc.
There are drives within us that are not spelt out because I believe many of us do not understand it and arguably perhaps no one will ever fully understand it. We get close to understanding it when we have a health scare or lose someone close to us. Another example of this feeling, is the indiscriminative choice a parent might make if they were to jump straight into a life and death situation to save their child. It would seem more of a loss to lose your child than your own life.
How does having an awareness of these inner drives help?
These drives are not changeable they are a permanent fixture within your existence but what we can do is work with them to understand why we react, respond or feel the way we do when we feel lonely in a room full of people, or why we feel the need to surround our self with people who are not necessarily good for us, or understand the complete shattering when we lose a loved one.
I think a way we can come to terms with some of these strong feelings associated with our existence is to find ground in tragedy where we can find a breakthrough rather than break down. (Yalom, 2003, p. 82) says “Human beings must face up to the ultimate meaninglessness of their existence ‘that there exists no “meaning”, no grand design in the universe, no guidelines for living other than those the individual creates.”
Are my reasons for living someone else’s?
People can get lost living their life to fulfil someone else’s meaning. Imagine a parent who for whatever reason does not fulfil their own dream of becoming a nurse, so when their child gets older they push forward the idea of them becoming a nurse. Have you ever seen the Black Swan? This is a film where a mother wants her daughter to become the Ballerina because she was unable to because of an injury. This is called a mortality project, when a parent attempts to fulfil their dreams through their children.
Imagine a society where we suggest to our daughters that they find themselves a rich spouse who will aid them to live happily ever after………..oh wait, doesn’t Disney do this anyway!
Where can I start looking for my own meaning?
We must find what will fulfil our individual meaning, and if that meaning is to live a life that’s not driven by meaning then so be it. I truly believe counselling can be a way to explore our own meaning. It can be a place to lay bare all the influences that have shaped your existence so far and also be a place to explore what your own meaning looks like without judgement. Therapy is a place to explore our loneliness in all its beauty, brutality and subtlety.
Carl Jung (famous psychotherapist) said “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”
Counselling can offer to fill that void where one exists in a world where our nearest and dearest have such busy lives that this level of self-exploration may feel easier to laugh off or could even pain our nearest and dearest which is another reason why exploring the lonely part of our self in counselling is safe.
I too have explored what it is to be lonely in the world, have I fully grasped what it is for me? I would say I have come pretty close. Does that mean I am qualified to guide people there? Peoples meaning and loneliness are so far different that no two meanings are ever the same but what I can say I will take into the counselling room with me is a knowing of the bravery it takes, I know what it feels like to rattle the core of my existence and I will know that look in another if I saw it.
Thank you for reading
In today’s blog I am going to explore a concept that you may have heard of before but I’m going to offer an understandable explanation in more depth.
Critical parent is an attitude adopted by our parents in order to get us to behave in a certain way. This is useful to us as the child, it keeps us alive. An example of this is “Don’t cross the road like that! Its dangerous” sometimes however this can be used to excess or in a way that is manipulative and not to the benefit of the child. An example of this is when the critical parent says “don’t be so stupid!” when the child is having fun.
I am not taking a swipe at our parents here or trying to create an ideology that some parents are worse than others but I am saying that perhaps some of that Victorian ideology of what children are exists in us, our parents, and their parents, today.
What I mean by Victorian ideology is statements like “Children must be seen and not heard!” At school you would be caned for speaking out of turn, poor work or anything that the teacher found displeasing. This ideology was the norm in Victorian times and continued for many decades after. The closeness between parent and child was not encouraged. Winston Churchill once said “I could count the amount of times my mother hugged me.”
This attitude is still knocking around today in modern parenting as not a deliberate attitude but one that has existed in our recent ancestors for example our parents, our grandparents and great grandparents. I think the times and ideologies of society that our ancestors lived in, plays a part in the role of critical parent but it’s a behavioural role that has probably existed long before these ancestors. If you do just a little research about what it was like for a child 500 years ago in Tudor times the whole parenting process was aimed at conformity.
So what does the critical parent sound like?
Don’t talk to me like that!
Don’t be so ridiculous!
You ought to be ashamed of yourself!
I have always got to tell you!
You Never do as your told!
Phrases like this either make us rebel against what is being said to us (rebellious) or we lap it up and do as we are told (Adapted). Whilst I believe the critical parent can have a damaging effect to us all in the way of self-esteem, it is the adapted stance that I feel will suffer hardest.
The adapted sounds like this?
I can’t do it.
I ought to be able to do better.
Sorry I got it wrong.
Please can you help me?
Hopefully I will be able to do it.
You can hear the absence of confidence and self-esteem in every one of those statements. If we allow these statements to be the reaction to decision making or opportunities presented to us you can see why we might choose not to take any chances or believe that we may be able to succeed, as well as defining our mood on a day to day basis.
The statements I’ve used are just the tip of the ice berg there are so many variations and phrases that come with both the critical parent and adapted child personalities. My belief is you as the reader want quick snappy relevant information to keep you interested so I won’t list them all.
So how does, how we were (and likely still are) spoken to by our parents have an effect on us?
In the absence of the critical parent we fill that space with our recorded version of it. After all we lived with it for the first third of our lives, why would we know any other right? It is out of our own reluctance to change that where our parent’s critical voice is absent we fill it with our own adapted responses. I have often encountered people that are controlled by their recorded internal critical parent or adapted responses, there is no shame in this, believe you me I am one of these people.
The thing is our parent’s critical side is their attempt to shape us for the world as children whom may not best be able to do that for ourselves. As an adult however we can start to make these decisions for ourselves even though we maybe still guided by our critical parent. It is a difficult thing to weed out as it’s something we have lived with all our lives.
There are ways to identify if you respond with a predominant critical parent via an adapted child but some of these ways are harder than others. If you are fortunate enough to still have your parents here, having a conversation with them can help you identify how in ground your critical parent is. Go have a conversation with them and tell them you have done something you know they will disapprove of, you could tell them you have got a tattoo of a budgie on your bum if you think they would believe it. Make it real enough that the response is genuine enough. I just want your parent/s to respond to you critically.
That’s the first step, now the second step of this is to recognise how their criticism affected you how did you feel in the instant the critical message has been delivered. For me, I feel a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and then I go into victim mode to the extent I put in an application for the mayor’s post at Victimsville! I now identify this feeling as my trigger, when I am thinking of doing something and I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach I recognise my critical parent has entered my thinking. Now I am sure that I don’t speak for myself when I say there are times I still feel every bit of the 5 year old I once was even though I am now a fully grown adult.
Other ways of identifying the critical parent is to keep a thought diary, you will also have to do a bit of reading about to identify critical parent cues a few are ‘should’, ‘could’ ‘must’ and ‘don’t be silly’ to name a few. I have also listed some above.
Finally a more in depth way of working out our own internal critical parent is through counselling. Counselling can be a way to identify the many layers that we have become because of external factors within our lives.
It wasn’t until I recognised why I was responding to people whom even slightly reminded me what having a critical parent was for me. I recognised that my behaviours are adaptive and I lack self-esteem as a result of this. It wasn’t until I recognised my own response to people whom brought out this response in me that I was able to move on. You can’t change people and critical parent is among us and in us all, what I can change is my response to it. I learned this part of myself in an exploration process during counselling.
I now try to operate all my thinking through my adult state, phrases most associated with this part of my personality are focused on facts and common sense. My adult is most likely to generate phrases such as:
Why do you feel like that?
What do you think?
What is the best way to handle this?
Lets find out.
What options do we have?
These responses are more than likely going to spark the adult part of the personality of the person you are in communication with. This is where we want successful interactions to happen. Operating using facts instead of feelings reduces the risk of child responses and the feelings that come with that.
I strongly believe once we overcome our responses to having critical parent we can prosper in our lives moving forward. It was a painful journey for me, but one certainly worth doing and I wish the best of luck to anyone brave enough to do the same.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, I value any input you may have towards it positive or critical. If you found this useful and would like to read more of my blogs or would like to access counselling yourself visit my website