Grieving over the loss of a loved one is an experience, sadly, we will all be faced with one day. And even when death is anticipated after a long and fulfilling life, those left behind will be shaped by the loss and mourn the passing of a parent, spouse or sibling. But the death of someone is not the only type of grief people experience and older adults often feel deep sorrow associated with a loss of identity as their roles change.
According to a recent Between the Generations post in Psychology Today, individuals can experience profound grief as a result of a loss of identity, a loss of safety, loss of autonomy or a loss of dreams and expectations. After a divorce, a loss of a job or when grown children leave home, people may feel a deep sense of loss being untethered from their identity as a spouse, in their career or as parents. But it can be hard to talk about the grief that results from these losses in identity because they may seem insignificant compared with death.
When people experience trauma, whether it’s physical, emotional or sexual, they may experience a loss of feeling safe. Homelessness, divorce or infidelity can also result in a persistent feeling of instability and loss of a sense of safety. And healing from trauma to restore a sense of internal safety can be difficult and take time.
Elderly adults commonly experience grief associated with a loss of independence and the ability to care for themselves and make their own decisions. Seniors may also grieve a loss of physical or cognitive capacity and a sense of self-worth when they believe they are no longer able to make meaningful contributions. Adults who have significant financial difficulty can also mourn the loss of their autonomy and feel despair and a sense of failure.
Grief can also be felt when people have unrealized dreams and hopes. Adults who are unable to have a family, did not meet their career aspirations or have faced unanticipated life events can also experience a type of grief over the loss of a life they thought they would lead. A person who has not lived the life they envisioned can feel like a failure and grieve the unfairness and uncertainty of life.
By learning that all these types of grief are legitimate and individuals are entitled to mourn their losses, people can move through these life challenges with more awareness. And when mourners are supported in their loss by a community that offers compassion and understanding, we can all feel a little less alone. Read more about the meaning of grief in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler’s book On Grief and Grieving.