Strategies to help with death and dying

I like reading the obituaries. It’s the first section I flip to in our local paper.

I like reading the obituaries. It’s the first section I flip to in our local paper.

It’s OK — you can breathe a sigh a relief knowing you aren’t the only one!

Reading obituaries reminds me of my own mortality and allows acknowledgement of the death of people I know.  More importantly, it gives me the opportunity to remember a human being’s life story and often, the legacy they leave behind.

For those family members who’ve lost an elderly parent or relative, an obituary is just one of the many, many ways to manage their grief.

Just recently, my beloved great-uncle Harvey died suddenly at 94 years.

The news of the death of the man we knew affectionately as Unky Harv knocked me off my feet.

That might surprise you. After all, working with seniors for almost 20 years, you might think I’d have the sense to better prepare myself.

Grief is pretty powerful, at times unpredictable and unique to each of us.

My great-uncle played such an important part of my life; outside of my parents, he was probably my No. 1 fan when touring with the national field hockey team brought me to B.C. His support during my move to the west coast to pursue my masters degree only strengthened our connection.

Uncle Harvey used to relish at being a “research participant” in my ongoing “experiment” on successful aging. The sudden loss of his physical presence was shocking and in a very selfish way, I didn’t want that tangible and incredibly special relationship to end.

Grief is hard work and takes enormous energy on many levels — physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It’s also universal.

The saying, “You can run but you can hide” rings true with grief. As much as some of us want to, there is no way to avoid it.

Our personal beliefs around death and grief are shaped by a personal compilation of experiences with the loss of significant people in our life.

But how we each deal with death, dying and grief is uniquely ours.  How we cope with death depends on many factors including the type of relationship we shared with our aging loved one, the role a parent played in life, whether the illness was lengthy or unanticipated, etc.

Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays with Morrie once said, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

One of my personal beliefs is we take the memories of our aging loved ones with us in the future acting as an unbroken link between the deceased and the bereaved.

Loss and grief are also often part of caregiving while aging parents are still alive.

The following words from a client directly speak to this: “Encouraging people to talk with their elders about well lots, but about death, their wishes, their fears and to talk about and share love, kindness, memories even if it seems like it is still some time in the future.”

Death and dying is a big topic to cover. With the help of some local experts, the next few columns will explore coping strategies, what’s normal grief and what isn’t and ideas on how to initiate talking to aging loved ones about death and dying.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

 

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