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Resources for Grieving Seniors

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Losing a loved one can be difficult, regardless of your age. However, for many older Americans, grieving the loss of someone they’ve known and loved for decades can be uniquely devastating. Knowing where to turn for support can be helpful to grieving seniors who may be mourning the very person they relied on for emotional support. The good news is that there are people and groups who can help. Here’s what to look for and how to find the support you need.

Grief Support Groups vs. Therapeutic Support Groups 

Start by looking for a grief support group in your area. You might be able to find one by contacting the local area agency on aging or inquiring at a community center. 

The main intention of a grief support group is to find community and connection with other grieving seniors who are moving through a similar experience, according to Elizabeth Schandelmeier, LCSW, APHSW-C, a therapist specializing in death, dying, grief, and loss. She runs a support group through Howling Lion Grief Support in Pittsburgh, PA. “Therapeutic groups often aim to address or solve a problem,” Schandelmeier says. “We understand that grief is not a problem to be fixed. Rather it is a process to be moved through, and doing so with others can feel supportive.” 

Amira Martin, LCSW-R, founder of MA Therapy, LLC, points out that sometimes a support group might not have a mental health professional as a facilitator. On the other hand, group therapy always has a licensed facilitator who might lead more structured sessions aimed at specific mental health goals. That doesn’t mean support groups can’t be helpful too.  

“If you are primarily seeking emotional support and the opportunity to connect with others who have experienced a similar loss, a support group may be a good choice,” Martin says. “If you are struggling with more complex mental health issues, group therapy may be a more appropriate option.” 

Private Counseling 

A group setting isn’t the only way to move through the grieving process. Private grief counselors are also available for grieving seniors. “Private counseling makes sense any time you think it might be helpful to have someone to talk to about what you are going through,” Schandelmeier says. “Many people like to seek out a grief specialist to simply check in and validate that the intensity of their feelings or thoughts is within the very wide range of normal.” 

Additionally, private counseling can help grieving seniors who struggle with complex mental health issues related to the loss, including: 

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Complicated grief 
  • Grief surrounding their own illness or issues 

“Private counseling allows for a more personalized and individualized approach to addressing these issues and can provide a safe space to explore difficult emotions and experiences,” Martin says. 

Where to Find Loss Resources 

Gabrielle Juliano-Villani, MSW, LCSW, has worked with older adults experiencing grief and owns GJV Consulting & Training. She points out different places to begin the search for loss resources. Juliano-Villani recommends starting with hospice agencies, even if the agency wasn’t serving the person they knew. Additionally, there should be a local Agency on Aging and Adult Protective Services. 

“Some people get scared or worried when they hear about Adult Protective Services,” Juliano-Villani says, “but they can connect you with many helpful resources.” 

Martin also suggests checking with senior and community centers for information on support groups and other resources. Libraries and religious organizations can also potentially provide ideas for getting help while grieving a loss. Finally, Martin recommends contacting AARP or the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization for local resources.  

Tips for Seniors Grieving a Loss 

Grieving is a process, and experts often warn against burying feelings of grief and sadness. “Pushing away feelings and not processing grief can lead to something called complicated grief, where the grief does not resolve but instead gets worse,” Juliano-Villani says. “Grief is not linear, and some days or moments are worse than others. You may have a variety of emotions, from guilt to anger to relief to sadness. All of those are normal.” 

Schandelmeier suggests three ways to help move through the grieving process: 

  1. See your doctor. Check in with your doctor and take care of your health. Take care of yourself. Many older adults are used to caring for others, and now is the time to take care of your own health. 
  2. Ask for help. Schandelmeier points out that many people don’t like asking for help, but their loved ones are likely waiting to hear from them. Ask for help, whether going to a local agency or reaching out to friends and family. 
  3. Create community. A grief support group can connect you to others ready to share experiences and meet new friends. A senior citizens center or other organization might also help you connect with others and create a sense of community. 

Martin also suggests creating a way to honor your loved one, such as creating a memorial or participating in activities that honor them. “Grief is a unique experience,” Juliano-Villani says, “but exploring it with others who are grieving or with a therapist can help you feel supported and validated.”