As we age, we experience varied types of losses. These can include loss of job through retirement, loss of independence through changes in health, loss of close friends and loved ones through death and loss of one’s home and community ties.
Multiple losses can become layered grief or cumulative grief. Cumulative grief is accumulated losses disrupting the normal grief process because of the frequency and intensity of the losses. We may notice physical, emotional, social and spiritual responses due to these layers of grief. We don’t always have time to process each loss or integrate it into our lives before suffering another loss.
Dealing with grief is a unique, individual experience without a timetable or schedule. Below are some suggestions about coping with and adjusting to cumulative losses:
• Be patient and gentle with yourself.
• Get enough rest and regular exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Grief has many physical symptoms. Taking care of your physical body is important when grieving.
• Cry. There are many health benefits to crying, including relieving stress, lowering blood pressure and promoting healing.
• Avoid negative habits including drug or alcohol abuse and overeating; these behaviors can mask the grief process.
• Make a list of the activities you enjoy, such as walking, gardening and reading.
• Celebrate your creativity by journaling, painting or drawing, singing, playing an instrument or building.
• Connect or re-connect with your faith community to strengthen your relationship with and trust in God.
• Join a support group, in person or online.
• Look for supportive resources on managing grief through self-help books, articles and websites.
If you feel like grief is disabling or interfering with your ability to function in daily routines and activities, consider seeking professional help from a counselor, therapist or spiritual leader. Remember to be patient, gentle and accepting of yourself and your timetable of grieving, as you work through the layers of loss. The layers of loss you grieve today are a part of the people, life and activities you have loved. Helen Keller wrote, “What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All we love deeply becomes a part of us.”