Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good Grief! Helping Your Aging Parent Cope With Loss

Your aging parent's losses are legion. (That means many.) But longevity has taught him or her how to cope.

That was the message Chaplain Greg Malone of Providence Hospice of Seattle gave last month to the residents of Evergreen Court, where I work. His topic, "The Care and Feeding of the Human Spirit," explored grief and ways to handle it.

Writing the word, LOSS, on the white board, Malone asked the residents--people in their 70s to 90s--to list the losses they'd faced: mate, mother, father, child, pet, friend, sibling. These elders also mentioned balance, independence, memory, sight, hearing, employment, home.

Wow! Your parent could probably come up with quite a list, as well.

Grieving, though difficult, helps us cope with loss. "If you don't grieve, it sits inside you and comes out in negative ways," said Chaplain Malone.

Singing, crying, telling one's story, participating in counseling, plus praying, writing, and creating are all ways to express grief. The group mentioned they nourished themselves in the midst of loss by serving others, enjoying nature, doing crossword puzzles, and being with people.

We can help our parents deal with their grief by realizing their methods might not be ours. A newspaper food columnist told me she remembered hearing from a frantic reader who had just lost her husband. "I can't find my recipe for apple butter. It was his favorite. And I just have to make it!"

A close relative of mine buried herself in reading while grieving the loss of her husband. In the middle of the night, surrounded by stacks of books, she immersed herself in the words. In the process, she worked through the immense grief page by page.

How has your parent dealt with loss? How do you see your role?

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