When Elderly Loved Ones Pass Away

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We saw a funny sign on our travels in a highway gift shop outside of Zion that read “If I had known having grandchildren would be this much fun I would have had them first!” Grandparents and grandchildren have a very special relationship, as we all know. Most grandchildren revere their grandparents, and vice versa, and this has everything to do with a change in psychology in the grandparents themselves who, due to increased life wisdom and reduced felt pressure to do everything right in order to raise those kids straight and true, can approach the situation with all love and no fear. They’ve already done their time as the primary caregivers in the traditional nuclear family of the West and now their reward is to sit back, enjoy the ride, and just be there with their little ones without feeling the need to do anything except have fun.

It’s no wonder then that even when these grandparents live long, full, happy lives their grandchildren are devastated by their passing. And actually the most common platitude, which is precisely that the grandparents led long, full, happy lives that anyone would be happy to have achieved runs against healthy grief recovery because it seeks to sacrifice authentic feeling, that bottomless sense of tragedy and loss that stems from the final rupture of any important human relationship, on the altar of rationality. The pain of human loss is the pain of human loss, regardless of surrounding circumstances.

Our wider point here is that the loss of any beloved person is supposed to inspire extremely painful and hard to understand feelings of grief, even if from a societal or cultural viewpoint the loss of this person shouldn’t be perceived as quite so bad due to this or that mitigating factor. But what matters it the quality and depth of the connection, not whether the relationship gets defined as familial or friendly or collegial or whatever, not due to whether the people who have passed away have reached a certain age or made a certain impact on the world or whatever. When the connection is deep and true and defined by feelings of love and safety the rupture of that relationship is going to cue off a boundless grief that is in no way dysfunctional but is rather our birthright as intelligent thinking feeling beings aware of the temporality of our existence yet secretly hopeful that somehow we and the people we care about will keep on trudging forward indefinitely.

When elderly loved ones pass away we’re reminded of the falsity of that hopeful assumption and more importantly we lose beloved people who have played a tremendously important role in our development and who we love to be around. Therefore deep grief is the appropriate and reasonable response despite that rational voice whispering in our ear that this person lived a long time, as long as anyone could hope for, and that therefore we shouldn’t feel so bad.

That attitude does violence to our own beings since it halts the healthy process of grief recovery, a process that demands the acceptance and expression of authentic thoughts and feelings, and in a way it also does violence to the loved one who has passed away since sensed grief celebrates the magnitude and personal importance of that lost living person. As we’ve written before, in the realm of grief recovery it’s ‘big love big grief, little love little grief’. It’s actually completely reasonable, not irrational at all, that a loss defined by big love would cue off big grief, regardless of the age of the person who has passed away. When grievers just let themselves think or feel whatever it is they’re thinking or feeling without censure or judgment they give themselves the chance to make sense of a confusing situation and grow from the experience, which is the ultimate testament to the beloved elderly person who has passed away.