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How to help a grieving parent cope with the loss of a friend

On their most recent visit, “Sarah’s” adult children found her withdrawn and sad. What was going on?

As their conversation continued, the children discovered a dear friend of their mother’s had recently passed away.

Unfortunately, as we grow older, grief at the loss of those we know and love becomes more frequent.

When parents are aging, their adult children will come to understand that losing friends is a new, strange reality for them.

So how do we help our parents as they grieve their lifelong friends? How do we begin to understand the sadness of being left behind?
“Losing old friends has a different dynamic than losing family members,” says Deanna Ziemba, senior vice president for Operations and Business Development, Diakon Senior Living Services. “When older relatives pass, for example, our grief may be softened to some extent by a level of expectancy. In many cases, we understand that our 90-year-old great-aunt will eventually pass away. We mourn, but we also find comfort in accepting that it was her time.
“But when friends die, we’re struck by the idea of ‘That could be me.’ Additionally, close friendships hold special places in our hearts. Some friendships are cherished even more than family. Old friends have known us so long and shared perhaps the most meaningful parts of our lives together that their relationship is sacred in ways we cannot describe.

“And accompanying the loss of an old friend is the loss of shared memories, lifelong habits and jokes and someone with whom to share those special moments.”
If your parent has recently lost a friend, you can help him or her grieve and cope with the loss. From a place of empathy, you can help older parents find comfort by giving them an avenue for expressing their grief and coping with this new stage of life, which doesn’t have their friend in it.
Trying to understand
One important thing you can do as the child of grieving parents is to try to understand what they are feeling. We can never fully understand another’s deepest emotions, but we can try to grasp what they are feeling and respect the toll those emotions may take. If you have lost a close friend, you may be able to relate to your parent more than if you haven’t.

Still, stages of life influence this season of grief, too. If parents are advanced in age and have lost multiple friends over the last few years, they may be experiencing severe loneliness, as well as the wonderings of when their turn will come.
Laurie Lewis writes a hauntingly beautiful narrative of what it’s like to attend another funeral of a friend at the age of 84. If you would like to glimpse what the experience is like, read her  article from The Globe and Mail.
Helping parents cope with loss
Grief can manifest itself differently in each one of us. Our experiences of grieving may be nothing like another’s. It’s important to remember this as you approach grieving parents about loss. Recognize they have the right to emotions you may not understand. From here, you can begin to offer comfort and support.
A Next Avenue article, “Coping with the Death of Old Friends and Siblings,” offers valuable advice for those currently dealing with loss, as well as people who may wish to help someone cope. Highlights include:
•    Mourning a close friend involves changes in one’s own identity – The world is a different place when someone we love is no longer with us. Similarly, we are somewhat different as well. Your parent’s grief is not only for their friend, but also who they were because of that friend. Different facets of ourselves shine brighter with each person with whom we share life. Your parent is also coping with the dimming of that particular part of identity.
•    Society may try to diminish their right to grieve – Generally, society places the loss of a friend as secondary to the loss of a spouse, parent or child. However, anyone with a close, lifelong friend understands that these relationships can be as significant as—and sometimes more than—those with family. Don’t let your parent suffer in silence. Society may not appreciate the depth of their feelings, but you can acknowledge their heartache and give them a place to express it.
•    You’ll have to accept your reversed role – Growing up, our parents held us and comforted us when we experienced loss. They taught us how to grieve and move on. It may be difficult to step into the role of comforter for your parent. Evaluate your role in this situation and consider how to approach comforting your parent in the healthiest ways possible.
•    Help your parent honor the loss of their friend – Moving on from a deep loss isn’t easy, and it will likely leave our parents forever changed. Yet, you can help your parents move on by helping them honor lost friends. This can range from taking them to visit the cemetery each weekend or suggesting they write a letter to their friend when they miss them.

More significantly, though, talk with your parent about honoring their friend with their daily life and remaining relationships. Ask them how they can keep their friend’s spirit living on within them. When your parents are ready, this change in perspective can help them to accept the loss and heal from grief by honoring the best parts of their friend in how they live their own lives.
You never have to face aging alone
“Dealing with the losses and grief that accompany aging and the later phases of life can be trying for everyone,” says Ziemba. “It’s important to make sure your grieving parent has support as they cope with their loss, but you should have support, too. If you need someone to turn to during the difficulties that come with helping a grieving a parent, we are happy to offer guidance and advice.”
Diakon Senior Living provides older adults and their families with community living services and support throughout every stage of retirement and aging.
Caring for our communities
In addition to the continuum of care and services Diakon Senior Living Communities provide, Diakon offers a variety of additional programs and services to benefit older adults of all faiths through compassionate care and gracious hospitality, with a goal of transforming lives.
—Diakon Corporate Communications

About Diakon Senior Living Services

At Diakon Senior Living Communities, older adults enjoy the warm, comfortable feeling of living in a community where neighbors and staff members know their names, where attention to detail, worry-free living designed to enhance well-being and health, and a vibrant lifestyle filled with opportunities combine to form a wonderful blend of privacy, hospitality and care.
With 12 senior living communities across Pennsylvania and Maryland, Diakon Senior Living offers independent living, personal care, memory care, skilled nursing, rehabilitation and adult day services, as well as community and volunteer programs to serve area seniors.
Our worry-free, wellness-focused lifestyles are backed by personalized support and health-care services that help residents live well and thrive.

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