We all experience loss at some point in our lives. Some of us experience it sooner or more often than others, but the fact remains that it is a reality of life. Yet despite being one of the few experiences every human on Earth can relate to, it can be extremely isolating.
Everyone processes grief differently. There is no single correct way to deal with loss. It’s an incredibly personal process. However, the support we receive and the coping mechanisms we adopt can be critical for our own mental and physical wellbeing.
For an observer — friends, peers, family — offering support can be intimidating. It’s hard to know when or how to reach out, or if they even want you to. In this post, we hope you will learn more about grief processing and the value of support systems. No one has to go it alone.
The Stages of Grief and How We Can Support Throughout
No discussion of grief processing would be complete without first laying out the stages of grief. However, we are going to deviate a little from the commonly known five step process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). Instead, these are nine stages of grief older adults may experience.
It is important to remember that everyone experiences these stages differently. Furthermore, not everyone may experience all of them. Nonetheless, someone who has experienced loss and is grieving is likely to go through several of these stages.
Each of these steps will include a description and things to look out for, and ways you can be supportive throughout.
1. Shock or Denial
Many of us have stories of people we have known, or even ourselves, who appear to be numb in the days immediately following loss. We may expect one to be emotional or grieving, and be confused when they don’t appear to react at all. As a friend or family member, it can be difficult to watch and navigate, but it is normal.
This is a time to be ready and available to give support. It’s important for someone who is grieving to know that they have support, though they may not actually want it just yet.
Shock and denial will eventually fade, and reality will begin to set in. Someone in this stage may seem “checked out,” often neglecting normal routines, housekeeping, or social activities.
Gently encourage them to seek out support systems, such as family and friends. More importantly, allow them to speak about loss on their own terms, if and when they feel ready. Someone who is grieving may want social interaction without needing to explain their grief. It’s a personal process.
As in the anger stage of the common five stages of grief, someone may be feeling resentment or hopelessness. It needs to be understood that grief-associated anger is not often expressed in outbursts as one might expect. Rather, someone in this stage is more likely to be in a consistent state of agitation that may be misdirected at others from time to time.
As a supportive observer, recognize that anger, even when misdirected, is natural. They will likely need space to process emotions. Patience is critical. Don’t be hurt if you receive any anger, and understand that it will pass in time.
4. Bargaining or Guilt
Some group this with the “Anger” stage, as they often, but not always, happen together. It’s not uncommon to hear “if only…” during this time. One may blame themselves or others, looking for a reason.
This can be an especially difficult stage. No one should have to blame themselves for loss. If things begin to spiral, it may be a good idea to have a few therapists to recommend. We can assist with that process.
5. Physical or Emotional Distress
It is important to remember that physical and mental health are directly related. That is why this stage can be particularly dangerous. In the weeks following a loss, one who is grieving may look at others moving on with their daily lives and feel like no one cares. In this stage, one may begin to exhibit physical symptoms, such as anxiety, poor sleep and appetite, and a lack of energy.
Here, it is important to remain committed to supporting your friend or loved one. It is easy to fade bac