Dealing with feelings of grief

Other Side of 50

 Andrea Gallagher

Andrea Gallagher

I’ll be attending two celebrations of life this month. The first is for my friend Margaret.

The other is for a 50-year-old work colleague who was killed by a stray bullet. He leaves behind a wife and children. His death is senseless, tragic and shocking.

I add something that I have been unable to write about thus far because it has just been too painful: the recent death of my beloved rescue cocker spaniel, Rolo.

Rolo was my best friend and provided me with unconditional love and companionship. I still have a huge hole in my heart, even though he died three months ago.

I’m surely not alone in my feelings; grief can occur even without a death. I think of my neighbor who has had three falls resulting in broken bones in the past few months. My friend is depressed as she so loves running and is unable to do her favorite activity, or almost any activity, due to a healing arm and foot.

And then there’s my Uncle Al, who, at age 89, recently had a kidney removed because a tumor was growing in it.

While, according to the doctor, his surgery was a success and his recovery is going well, when his daughter asks him how he is doing, he says he’s about 50%. He doesn’t want to leave the house and is not really enjoying things he once did.

I’m guessing there’s a certain amount of grief and loss he’s dealing with.

The inherent challenge of living a long life is that generally we will experience more grief and loss. I think there are a lot of older adults walking around with grief and sadness in their hearts.

Why bother to bring up gloomy thoughts to others? It’s not sympathy we need but a way to come to terms with our grief and eventually move on. But are we ready to move on? Does moving on mean forgetting about our loss?

In the case of Rolo, for example, I don’t want to forget him. He was my best friend for 14 years. If I don’t keep him alive in my thoughts and memories, will his life mean nothing?

I do know there are ways out of grief. We host a grief support group here at Senior Concerns for people who have lost a spouse with dementia. Over time, I can see grief lifting as they leave the meetings, in their smiles and in words to our staff.

Experts say that the first step in dealing with the grieving process is to acknowledge your pain and to accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions. It may be feeling overwhelmed or sad or depressed.

They say that each person’s grieving process is different.

We don’t need to be alone in our grief. Seek face-to-face support from people who care about you. You will find that, in almost all cases, it’s their honor and privilege to be there for you because they love you.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and have nowhere to turn, please call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. They are available 24 hours a day.

To paraphrase what Thomas Fuller so wisely said, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Better days are ahead.

Andrea Gallagher is a certified senior advisor and president of Senior Concerns, For more information, go to seniorconcerns.org or email agallagher@seniorconcerns.org.