From grief to growth: Overcoming loss and building resilience for a brighter future

Sep 06, 2023
Grief doesn't discriminate by age and it touches all of us at some point in our lives. Source: Getty Images.

Ageing is a natural part of life, but like anything it comes with its own set of challenges. One of the most difficult struggles faced in later life is the grief that accompanies the loss of partners, loved ones, and friends after almost a lifetime spent together.

This journey through grief is not only emotionally taxing but can also be physically and mentally demanding.

Among all age groups, older individuals bear the weight of bereavement most heavily. According to a 2022 national survey of 633 bereaved adults aged 65 years and above in Australia, a staggering 21 per cent met the criteria for experiencing prolonged grief.

Those surveyed exhibited a notably diminished quality of life, and their sense of loneliness soared when compared to their peers in the broader elderly population.

While the path of grief is tough, building resilience can light the way to a brighter tomorrow.

With that in mind, Start at 60 explores the challenges that may arise when coping with loss later in life, the strategies you can employ to overcome grief, and how resilience can play a pivotal role in moving forward toward a brighter future.

Navigating the emotional and psychological obstacles of loss after 60

Grief doesn’t discriminate by age and it touches all of us at some point in our lives. However, when we reach the milestone age of 60 and beyond, the emotional and psychological challenges that accompany loss can take on unique challenges.

Mental health expert and thought leader, Tracey Horton explains that “loss at any time of our lives is difficult, but the reality is, as we age it seems to be all that much harder.”

The most common emotional and psychological challenges facing the over 60s include:

  • At this age chances are the person you have lost has been in your life a long time and your relationship has been a part of your life and life seems “not right” without them.
  • At this age you are not as physically or emotionally resilient as a younger version of yourself would be, hormones are naturally on the slow decrease and it can make the grief process actually more exhausting for you in particular.
  • It can bring racing to the forefront of our minds the hard fact of our own mortality, for many, this could be the first time they have actually thought about it. We can have to then look at some of the uncomfortable issues like our own end-of-life plans and funeral plans.
  • At this age, you are probably not the only person in your life affected by this loss and you could need to rally for others in a way that makes the whole process that much heavier.

Effective coping strategies for navigating the grieving process

Grief is an inevitable part of life, but it’s also one of the most challenging experiences we face. When coping with the loss of a loved one, especially as we age, finding effective strategies to navigate the grieving process becomes paramount.

Some coping techniques that Horton suggests to help you find solace and resilience as you journey through grief include:

  • Talk to people in your life who care – never believe you are a burden.
  • Find a support group of people who have shared a similar loss.
  • If you aren’t coping then seek help, talk to your doctor, see a counsellor for a while.
  • Keep a journal and note how you feel so you can look back and see that you are getting through it

“Resilience is formed by facing each day with all you have, on the good days you do it well, and on the other days you might not, but you still get up and that is the key,” Horton adds.

In addition to the above suggestions, the following can provide some level of comfort and guidance to those dealing with grief, offering practical ways to cope and find solace during this difficult period in your life:

  • Embrace self-care: Prioritise self-care for your physical and emotional well-being. Engage in activities that bring you comfort and happiness, whether it’s taking walks, practicing mindfulness, or pursuing hobbies you enjoy.
  • Set realistic goals: Establishing new goals, no matter how small, can give you a sense of purpose. These goals can be related to work, personal growth, or simply getting through the day.
  • Creative outlets: Art, writing, or music can be powerful forms of expression during grief. Engaging in creative activities can help you process your feelings and find outlets for your emotions.
  • Remember and celebrate: Honour the memory of your loved one by creating rituals or traditions that celebrate their life. This can be as simple as lighting a candle, creating a scrapbook, or organising a memorial event.
  • Physical health: Taking care of your physical health through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can positively impact your emotional well-being during grief.
  • Acceptance and patience: Understand that grief is a natural and often long-term process. Give yourself permission to grieve at your own pace, and be patient with yourself as you work through your feelings.
  • Volunteer and give back: Volunteering your time to help others can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment, helping you shift your focus from grief to making a positive impact on the lives of others.

While these suggestions can help ease the burden, healing from grief is not a straightforward process, and it’s okay to seek professional help if you find yourself struggling to cope. Every individual’s journey with grief is unique, and finding the right combination of strategies that works for you is an essential part of the healing process

“Remember, you lost someone dear to you so allow the grief process but the day must come that you live on without them happily, just like you would want them to, had it been you,” Horton adds.

Grief in later life is a complex and often silent struggle, but it is not insurmountable. By seeking support, embracing self-care, setting new goals, seeking professional help when needed, and creating ways to honour loved ones, you can transform your grief into resilience, guiding you towards a brighter, more fulfilling future.

MENTAL HEALTH DISCLAIMER: If you or anyone you know needs help: Lifeline — 13 11 14; MensLine Australia — 1300 789 978; BeyondBlue — 1300 224 636; Suicide Call Back Service — 1300 659 467; Headspace — 1800 650 890; Kids Helpline — 1800 551 800

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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