Helping Seniors Cope with Losing Friends and Family

By: Sheila Kun RN, BA, BSN, MS

My father migrated from Macau and joined me in Los Angeles when he was 70 years old. He was very active in his volunteer work in Chinatown at the Senior center. He promoted exchange of cultural events by sponsoring Cantonese Opera to perform here. He also taught the younger folks in the community how to organize the cultural exchange events, including budgeting, marketing and establishing relationships with all the stakeholders. He was a social butterfly and his social activities were busier than mine at that time; from his Monday through Friday volunteer work, he had all kinds of social events such as community outreach programing, birthday celebrations, wedding of colleagues, and Karaoke. Striving to be independent, he knew how to take buses to go to Chinatown, including transfers from our house. Basically he had led a very productive senior life for almost 20 years here before he passed away in his sleep. But one activity that he had abstained from very early on was attending funerals. I never really questioned why until I read Julie-Allyson Ieron’s book on “The Overwhelmed Woman’s Guide… Caring for Aging Parents. I decide I would share her insight on helping seniors to cope with losing friends.

As you can image, when the seniors advance in age, their siblings, cousins, and friends would wobble on walkers, slouch in wheelchairs, rasp with oxygen tanks, and succumb to infirmity. Very soon, it seems like only a few are left standing.  I took my father’s absence in funeral services as a sign of avoidance. Looking back, I felt that I failed to recognize and address with him the topic of CHANGE. Hence I would share Julie’s observation on change with you the next few weeks.

This is a chapter about change –  change from the seniors’ perspectives. As they are aging, so are their contemporaries. Often times, we fail to take into account the affect their shrinking social circles have on their outlooks. People they have known for lifetimes are gone for good. Their worlds are becoming smaller, more limited, and more isolated.

An aging expert Alice Domar wrote: The emotions people experience as they cope with the changes that age brings on can be very similar to the emotions people feel when they lose a loved one…. The grief manifests itself in many different ways. Symptoms of grief ranges from shock and disbelief, to denial that change is taking place, to depressions, loneliness, and a sense of isolation. More visible emotions, such as panic, hostility, and an inability to function day-today, are also possible.

Few would argue that these turbulent emotions are the starting point as we face loss and change, but if we want to help our seniors move into a productive new normalcy, a few “divine secrets” may provide the impetus we need.

Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: Can you identify the impact of change on the elderly?

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