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When grief takes over


What I am about to share, is not only personal but professional. I have worked with the elderly population for all of my career, starting as a Home Health Aide when I was 17! In all of those 40 years there has been one common theme- and the sad truth of it is, its GREIF. Until now, I have worked alongside grief, respected it, acknowledged it, helped thousands work thru it (to the extent that one can). However, in the last several months there is a feeling, a reality that keeps showing it self to me.

LIFE IS FRAGILE, and fleeting. Those words ring true in so many ways. Our loved ones are here one moment- gone the next. Friends that we sit and have coffee with, are ever present one day, and may be gone the next. Parents who have been our only mainstay all our lives, leave us (forever). Partners lay beside us at night one night, and sadly leave us the next. The volume of grief that has surrounded our society and personal lives over the last 2-3 years is insurmountable. How do we move on? How do we heal from such loss? When so many are grieving at the same time, the feeling is palpable.

When we are young, it seems that grieving is easier because there is less “death” around us in general. So instead of being bombarded with weekly or monthly reminders of how fleeting this lifetime is, we are only attending funerals a couple times a year, if that. Well, fast forward to year 50 and up….when those funerals are more prevalent, more painful, more all-consuming. If you can, now picture yourself in your 80s, maybe living in an assisted living where you meet new friends, create relationship you thought you never would or could (especially at this age). Now you are surrounded by 80-100 elders, about your age, whose time is limited, whose frailties are not. Picture yourself sitting in the community dining room, laughing with your new found buddy about “the old times”……60-70 years ago when you were hell on wheels during your teens and early twenties. You were a force to be reckoned with. Strong, active, ALIVE in many ways, indestructible and ready to take on the world! Now you are sitting in a room full of people who are tired, sore, compromised physically or cognitively…..but YET…you press on. You make the most of it, because that’s what we do as humans. We overcome, we adapt to change, we see the light, we overcome. Until we can’t…………………

The grief that I speak of is a daily struggle for not only our society at large, but for our elders who deal with it on a daily basis, Covid or not. If you take that one example and put yourself in the shoes of that elder who is just trying to survive day to day and add the additional reality that every single day (sometimes several times a day) the ambulance shows up at the front entrance and takes out the new friend. Sometimes that friend comes back, sometimes not. Sometimes that friend is gone for months in rehab and comes back a different version of themselves, which makes communication strained and difficult. Sitting at that table changes often, new friends come and go….and one day, that 85 year old who was once a force to be reckoned with, strong and vibrant…..is exhausted and depleted.

The human soul is an amazing thing. Our soul drives us, guides us, holds us…..not only in our younger years when “NOTHING can touch us”….but also when we are frail and tired. The soul does not judge us, it simply resides within us and innately knows when this feeling of being exhausted and depleted has taken over so much so, that we may be better served on the other side……

When working with these elders, especially over the last few years while I am also dealing with my own realities of aging, it’s become an honor and privilege to hold the hands and look into the eyes of humans who have gone thru so much, dealt with so much, grown as humans, learned life lessons, and experienced massive losses. The loss of independence, the loss of a profession, their license/freedom, friends, their physical and cognitive stamina, and their spouse/partner. How does the human soul continue to adjust to all of that loss? It’s a mystery to me honestly. I question sometimes, even at 57…how I will rebound from losing my mom, not having my children close by, losing relatives, friends and my strong capable (once vibrant) physical body.

Compassion for the elderly population has always been what drives me. But now its driving me even more. Compassion literally means to suffer together. It's defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve the suffering. This Blog is written to bring this to the forefront. To bring to LIGHT the harsh reality of what our elders feel every day. Maybe you are feeling it to. Although I have do not profess to be an expert in counseling, what I HAVE learned is that talking about this grief tends to set people free, open their heart to allow even a shred of healing. Communication, tenderness, physical affection (hugs) eye to eye contact, and time. Sounds so simple but can be so profound to the elder who has lost so much. I encourage all of us to really sit with how we handle and work thru grief. Do you brush it aside for another day? Or do you let your soul do its work and allow the pain to flow thru you? If not for yourself, do it for your elderly loved ones who more often than not, need this compassion, time and freedom to FEEL, and HEAL.

All my best,

Sheryl Fappiano LSW, CMC, Owner

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