We accept that our parents are likely to die before us, especially if they are elderly. But we can still feel totally heartbroken. Here’s how to deal with this bereavement
She was always there for you. She picked you up whenever you were down, made you laugh, supported you when you became a mother and adored your kids.
And now your mum has died, and you don’t know how to carry on.
You can’t face work, and the idea of seeing friends makes you feel anxious.
You look in the mirror, and say to yourself: I’m an orphan now.
But you’re not a child or a young woman.
You’re in your 50s.
Because of this, you feel unable to express your grief.
You feel as if you have to put on an act, as if losing a parent isn’t a tragedy, because it’s part of the natural order of life.
You don’t cry in front of others, and feel silly when people ask how old your mother was — because she led a long, happy life.
However, losing a parent at any age can be devastating.
But, as a society, we often don’t give as much sympathy to people who lose elderly parents.
According to the Office of National Statistics, the average life expectancy in the UK is 79.2 years for men, and 82.9 years for women.
But often, when older people die, our reaction is to offer condolences and platitudes, such as ‘at least she had a good innings’.
Yet this isn’t always helpful, and it can be hurtful for the person grieving.
It can also make people feel awkward at expressing how they feel, or make them feel that their grief is not ‘valid’.
Andy Langford, Chief Operating Officer at Cruse Bereavement Care, says: ‘The death of a parent at any age can be devastating.
‘There is no age limit on grief, it can affect us at any age, and can have a profound effect on people’s lives.
‘People may feel they can’t express their grief if their parent was elderly when they died, yet there is no hierarchy when it comes to grief — it affects us all differently, and the age of the person who has died shouldn’t stop us from expressing our sadness.’
Andy says that Cruse receives many calls from people who have lost a parent later in life.
He says: ‘For a lot of people it’s their first major bereavement, and they need to talk to someone about it.
‘We also get calls from older people who have been caring for elderly parents. Their grief can be complex because not only has their parent died, but they are no longer caring for that person, which can feel like another loss.’
It’s difficult to predict how grief will affect someone, as every bereavement is different.
However, as people get older, they might have fewer people around them to offer support, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Andy adds: ‘Each bereavement will vary, depending on your relationship with the person who has died. If you would like some support, you can call a charity like Cruse and talk to a trained bereavement supporter.’
Edited by Julie Cook
For more information, visit cruse.org.uk
5 ways to... DEAL WITH GRIEF
Don’t keep it in — tell people about your loved one’s death.
See people — if you work, or attend social clubs or groups, keep going or join a new group to meet people.
Honour your feelings — every bereavement is different, depending on your relationship with that person and the circumstances of their death.
Prepare for anniversaries —birthdays, Christmases and other special occasions can trigger powerful emotions.
Don’t accept clichés — phrases like ‘she had a good innings’ are trite. Your loved one was special to you, and your grief is as genuine as anyone else’s.