Acknowledging Loss

By Wendy Johnstone


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The experience of loss, regardless of age, can cause emotional pain or a disruption in our lives. Losses can be minor or major and relative to how the person experiencing the loss perceives it. Tangible losses such as a death, chronic illness, and change in physical abilities or senses are often easier to recognize, whereas intangible losses such as the perceived loss of control and independence can be subtler or less obvious.

Younger generations typically have more physical energy and a sense of control to move on after experiencing losses. Boomers and seniors, however, can find it more difficult to cope with loss because their loss isn’t always easily regained or replaced.

Think for a moment about how loss affects people. Most of us, at some point in our lives, are going to experience the following:

Loss of physical strength or cognitive ability;
Loss of peer group;
Loss of family or work role;
Loss of identity;
Loss of a family home;
Loss of a relationship due to caregiving, especially for spouses caring for each other.

What binds generations and people together as human beings, regardless of age, is that everyone must deal, in some way, with losses of many types throughout their lives. While we may not all experience the same type of loss, rebuilding our lives and relationships after a loss is a universal challenge we must all face.

Most people who are experiencing a loss or change want to talk about their feelings, concerns, fears, hopes and dreams. Even if emotions are expressed as “life isn’t working out the way I wanted it to,” there is immense value in being able to acknowledge these changes and what they mean for your friend, spouse, or aging parent and those around them, such as family or friends.

When caring for someone in our lives, it is important to understand the array of emotions they may be going through. Many care recipients who are facing changes due to disease or illness describe losses as “losing themselves.” Many feel they are no longer the person they once were and often grieve the loss of their abilities. Each of us deals with these losses differently and grief comes in many forms including shock, denial, depression, feelings of loneliness, and anger.

The more we can acknowledge the changes and losses taking place, the more opportunities there are to regain control and maintain independence.

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