Whether we spend 50 years working outside the house or that many years taking care of the house, as we get older, we look forward to relaxing. Our golden years are supposed to be when we take a deep breath and enjoy ourselves.
Many times, that’s exactly what happens. However, as we age, loss is part of the equation, and we have to figure out how to cope and move forward.
Loss comes in different forms. Loved ones pass away. We lose mobility. We sell the homes where we raised our families.
One of the most difficult transitions is losing people we care about, both family and friends. It’s important to allow ourselves to experience these losses and not push them aside. Individuals grieve in their own ways, and no one can tell anyone else how to feel.
However, it’s also vital to see what we still have and how much we mean to those around us. We can put one foot in front of the other and lead a fulfilling life.
A good way to do this is by sharing thoughts of your loved ones. Reminiscing can be validating and let people know that you want to keep talking about the nice times you had together.
Deciding to do something to honor those individuals is wonderful as well. Volunteer at a school or a pet shelter if they liked children or pets. Start a book club if they read a lot, or take someone to shul if they can’t drive.
When someone dies, thoughts of our own mortality can surface, which is normal. This, along with their loss, can lead us to reassess our lives. Sometimes, we need more assistance than we are able to give ourselves.
Joining a support group is a possible answer. Being with others experiencing the same losses can be healing and informational. It’s nice to remember that we aren’t the only ones going through a difficult time.
Still, in still other cases, if grief becomes too overpowering, check in with a professional. Counseling, and sometimes medication, can be just what we need to get back on track and feel like ourselves again.
Second, a lack of independence can be very frustrating. Having to accept care instead of giving it is unfamiliar. If mobility becomes an issue, try physical, occupational and/or speech therapy. Each of these can make your body stronger and be reassuring emotionally.
If you must still depend on others, don’t forget that in the same way you like to assist family and friends, they appreciate the chance to help you.
Third, the prospect of moving to assisted living or a nursing home may not be something we choose to do. However, many people are surprised to find that that these moves have very clear benefits. There is lots of social interaction and interesting programs available if residents choose to take part.
Bring your favorite things with you when you move. A few paintings, a chair, a quilt and lots of family photos can make a new place quickly feel like home.
As a rabbi, the best advice I can give to help someone who is grieving is to listen. I’ve learned that listening is an incredibly powerful way to provide comfort.
While acknowledging losses, remembering the positive can also start the healing process. Moving forward is gradual. It takes baby steps to recall the good things that life is still offering.
It’s like stubbing a toe. It hurts a lot at the beginning and slowly the pain subsides.
Rabbi Jeffrey Orkin is director of pastoral care and chaplaincy services at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital/LifeBridge Health. Helene King is communications coordinator for LifeBridge Health.