Loss and grief as a natural part of the aging process

Loss and grief as a natural part of the aging process

For all that loss and grief are sometimes considered a taboo subject, they are in fact an inevitable aspect of life. As we age and we face situations that challenge our sense of self and well-being, we become more aware of precariousness of life.

Growing old is that time when we reflect and remember, sometimes with joy and others with sadness, about the things and the people that we miss. It is clear to us that as we age, our understanding of ourselves also changes. This is to say, our identity or how we define who we are changes. Growing old is a testament to having lived, having experienced, and having come to get a perspective on life. One of the various aspects of this unique perspective is that of grief and loss.

Growing old allows us to take an inventory of life as we lived, experienced, and understood it. We remember the days when we had friends, now gone; parties that we attended, now no longer; foods that we loved and enjoyed eating or cooking, now some of those same foods challenging us as they become difficult to eat. In short, we come to learn that we have changed so much that it is almost a different self that lives in a body that no longer has that vitality and strength as we once exhibited in our youth.

The process of reflecting on our lives can make us more aware of the sadness and the sorrow that we have borne due to loss or regrets. However, it is in this remembering that we have the opportunity of mourning our losses in life. Because of this close connection between remembering and feeling grief and loss, we have a unique chance of readjusting our perspectives about the value and meaning of our lives.

The holidays in particular can present a challenge. As children, we enjoyed the holiday; the excitement of opening gifts and seeing the lights. As adults, the holidays are a day to be off work; to others, a day to relax and gather together with family and friends.

As we age, the holidays can be difficult. Most of our friends and family members are gone, and we find ourselves facing one of those challenges of life, once again and asking the question, how am I going to answer this challenge?

It is a helpful to reflect on the good times that past holidays brought us. This is healthy for we dwell on the good, rather than the sadness of the present.

Next, we can create a new way of celebrating our holidays. This is helpful because, by thinking about how we can celebrate we become more creative about using our various experiences of life to bring about a new beginning in our lives.

We can certainly join others in celebrating holidays. This is a step towards remaining engaged in life, rather than giving up on life. And finally, we can lean on the love and care of the source of faith and strength for our lives. This is very healthy for our souls because, leaning on our source of strength is an indication that we have successfully understood and have come to appreciate our lives as meaningful and purposeful. It is also important because, by leaning on that source, we can embrace life, however little we have left, with the joy and the sense of gratitude for the precious gift of having lived. This will be our legacy that will be remembered by others, who like us, will reflect and remember us as they ponder about their lives.

About the Author: Gerlin Valencia, MDiv, ThM, PhD, is Chaplain for Allied Services Hospice & Palliative Care. Valencia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Bluefield College, as well as a Master of Divinity in Pastoral Counseling with specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy, a Master of Theology in the Psychology of Religion and New Testament Language and Literature, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology of Religion and Pastoral Care and Counseling from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In his role Gerlin will serve as a spiritual companion to patients and their families as they face the challenges of end-of-life care.