How to Deal with Elder Losing a Child or Pet

francy Dickinson                                  www.seniorcarewithspirit.com

Dear francy: I care for my Aunt. She is 87 and her two children live out of state. News has arrived that her daughter has died unexpectedly and I am wondering how to handle this when she is already so confused?

Thank you for sharing this question, I just had a similar event with a death of a daughter of a dear friend that had lost his wife within the last couple of years. This is always a hard emotional challenge and then you add age and health challenges and you are in a pickle trying to give support.

Here are some tips:

  1. Even if someone is in a coma, I tell them gently about sad news. I remember years ago a couple we knew were in a tragic auto accident and the husband died and wife was gravely wounded. Their son sat next to the mother while she was in a coma and told her that her husband has passed. He did it with such gentle words and asked her to just relax and know he was there by her side. Months later she told him, that she did not remember his words but she did know that her husband had died when she came to and she felt he had been with her as she went in and out of her unconscious state. Giving her the choice to deal with bad news while she was so ill is a scary thing, but keeping real life from someone that is alive is pointless.
  2. Be gentle with words, using a soft but consistent voice and keeping your emotions down is important. Everyone cues off of the person they are with so if you are upset, they will be upset.
  3. Get a picture of the person that has passed and take it with you when you speak of the death. Hold it up for them and let them absorb the feelings or memories that they have of the person. If they are suffering from dementia, take a childhood picture and an adult picture so the elder is able to grasp onto either memory.
  4. If memories are lost, then remind them. Tell them a little story about their life and include the person that passed>Like: “Auntie, when you were young you were married to a nice man and you had two children. One was a daughter Megan and she grew up to be very pretty, smart lady and loved you very much. I am sorry to tell you that your Megan is gone, she died today. She will not be coming to see you again. Do you understand? Do you have a question for me?” Let them express how they feel. They may remember and be upset or not connect at all. It will all flow, but to give them honor you do not hold back news of life.
  5. If they go into a very agitated state, then you want to call the doctor and tell the office what has happened and ask them for assistance. Many times doctors will prescribe just a few pills to help a person get through two or three days of extreme tension while they are processing their grief.
  6. If the person forgets about the death in times to come, that is fine. It is up to you to inform them, not remind them on a daily basis. Maybe their mind can not remember, or maybe they choose not to accept the loss. Both of those things are fine for an elder that is unwell.
  7. Let others in the family know the extent of grief the elder is feeling. They may not express their grief to a visiting friend or relative, but you as there care giver see the grief in their actions and response and you know that things have changed even if they are not expressing that change verbally. So, quietly inform the family or visitor before they engage in conversations.
  8. Many times elders want to talk about their own dealth when there is a passing of a friend or relative. This may upset the family but it is very normal and you need to let them talk it out. That is the key, let the elder set the tone of the conversation and you follow their lead. Guiding them to as much positive thought patterns as you can with your return conversation. Always leaving the conversation on an up note about the future of that day or an event that is coming up. Just do not rob them of feeling sad, nor rob them of feeling it is OK to look forward to another day or week of their own life.
  9. I remember my husband trying to comfort me when I lost my sister telling me her medical accident was for the best because she would have suffered with cancer and this had removed that future suffering. It was his way of being kind, but it upset me. A death is a death, it does not matter if it is an accident, a health concern, a suicide or an older age event. It is still the end of someone’s life and grief needs to honored. Do not try to make the death have a reason, just leave it as it is. A child lost, is lost, no matter what the cause. Honor and respect the sadness a parent will have and will carry for the rest of their life. Unhappy feelings have to be felt and it is good to know and let them just be.
  10. Allow the senior to grieve give them space and time. I always bring out a picture of the person or pet that has passed and place a candle in front of it and light it on the day of the death and then in the evening for a week or two. It is not meant to be a ritual of faith, it is just a ritual that allows the person to express their grief and remember and honor the passing.
  11. If the elder is very involved in their faith then notify a local chaplain and ask them to visit. Let them have time alone, even if they are in a place of confusion, let the faithful and long heard words of prayers be said for the elder. Let their mind absorb the ritual of faith and let it comfort them. No matter what their chosen faith a lifetime of prayer comes back when they hear old prayers or songs.
  12. Attending funerals, this is simply up to the family to judge. My mother had lost so many friends by the time she passed at 100 years that she was unable to go to memorials any longer. They were just to depressing for her. I actually went to the memorial of her last dear friend’s passing on her behalf. Mother was happy that we were represented and she was able to process the dealth on her own without the large crowd of strangers at the memorial. I filled her in on the service and gave her a picture of the flowers and the memory booklet that they gave to me. It was a good way for her to experience but not get herself so involved she became ill.
  13. Do not under estimate the feelings of an senior or elder with a pet. Often when they lose all of their family or spouse they turn their love and whole inner support to a pet. This make the pet like a family member and dear loved one to the senior. Honor the pet as you woud a person, for they are thought of like that by the elder.
  14. Life without my sister has never stopped being sad. She has been gone twenty years now and you would think I would have tucked it away. But often I find tears on odd occations over her memory. Mother was the same way. There is no time limit to grief, some process fast and well, some accept the loss because they have experienced so many losses in their long years of life. Some grieve a pet more than their spouse. There is no rule…there just is.

I want to thank you for your time with your Aunt and your tender concern over her well being at this time of loss. It is a gentle miracle that she has you there to be with her. Some times its just knowing that someone is there with you that cares that will make the difference in the healing a broken heart. You are there and you have given her that support and I honor you for your caring touch.

Please do go to my website at www.seniorcarewithspirit.com for more ideas. I have a great e-book called Care Giving 101 Workbook that will help you with giving care in your own home or in the senior’s home. It has all the basic home nursing tips and gives you ideas to support yourself as well as your spouse or loved one. These books are very popular with care givers and I encourage you to buy one so you can feel more in power of your situation as the care giver. It can be very lonely out there all alone when you are giving care – I want to make the experience more comforting for you.

I write these blogs to share information that I have gathered in my many years of care giving. I am now tending to my husband with Alzheimer’s and my books and services are how I’m able to stay at home and care for him. Thanks for all you are doing for your own loved one, blessings. francy

PS I am on Twitter @seniorcaretips and I would love to have you listen to my talk radio show on senior care issues just click the radio button on my home page. The show is on demand so you can listen whenever you have time.

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