When someone dies, we grieve the loss of the person. Even if the person was older and death was the natural end to their life, family and friends can experience grief and loss. Family members can feel strong emotions including sadness, distress, anger, anxiety, disbelief, panic and relief. Grief can also be felt physically as headaches, nausea, fatigue and restlessness.
If you have been caring for an older family member for some time, you may also feel some confusion about the loss of a caring role and guilt that you might be relieved that the caring responsibilities have ended.
There is no timetable for grief. Everyone experiences the death and loss differently. Some people want to share their feelings while others don’t wish to talk about things. It may take some time to make sense of your feelings and some days it may be difficult to keep going with work and family matters. When you are grieving, it is easy to neglect your own needs so make sure you consciously take care of yourself.
As time passes following the death of the person you cared for, it’s normal for feelings of sadness, numbness, or anger to gradually ease. While the sadness of losing someone may never go away, over time it generally changes. There may be bad days still but there are days when you can see pleasure in activities and families and the future. If grief is continuing to severely disrupt your life talk to your GP or to someone from your health care team.
Watch psychologist and Bereavement Care Specialist, Chris Hall talk about grief, our different responses to loss and the importance of supporting the bereaved person.
Older people experience grief as do younger people. However, because of their age they may have experienced several losses within a relatively short period of their life, and this may add to their grief and grieving. The death of a life partner is difficult at any age.
For an older person, this can also mean the loss of the normal pattern of their life, particularly if they will now be living alone. It can mean new responsibilities if they previously shared tasks and activities such as cooking or billpaying.
They may also have fewer people in their social circle due to losses or having changed where they live. They may also feel the impact of other losses in their life if they are experiencing ill health and disability or changes in their lifestyle.
Family, friends and neighbours can all help support the older person.
Visit them and make time to talk with them to understand how they are feeling. Help them connect with others in the social network and encourage them to engage in social activities.
The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement has produced a series of factsheets for older people.
View ACGB's grief factsheets for older people
COVID-19 has affected how many Australians think about aged care and about grief and loss. While Australia has been spared many of the direct impacts of rapid spread, older people and families have been affected by public health orders, deaths in residential aged care and restrictions on visiting aged care and on attending funerals and social activities.
There are special supports in place to help older people and aged care staff with issues around grief, loss and trauma.
You can find support at:
This information was drawn from the following resources:
Visit the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement website
View CarerHelp’s Grief and life after caring pathway
Read RePADD's Grief and Loss for Families booklet (8.66MB pdf)
Last updated 02 August 2021