Grieving the Death of an Elderly Loved One

Earlier this week, we published the article, Please stop minimizing the death of older adults.  It was admittedly a bit of a rant, and I ran out of room to discuss some of the finer points about why grieving the death of an elderly loved one can be so devastating. 

So, if you haven’t read that article, start there. For the rest of you, I’d like to waste no more time discussing eight reasons why the death of an elderly loved one can be difficult. 


Eight Reasons Why the Death of an Elderly Loved One is Difficult

1. People minimize your loss

People often minimize grief experienced after the death of an older loved one with comments and attitudes like: 

“At least he lived a good long life.” 

“Don’t be sad; you had 80 good years with her.” 

“It’s the natural order of things.”

“It was her time.”

Please know that although a person may feel gratitude for the years of memories they had with their loved one, they may also feel a million other painful emotions.

Also, death may be “natural” at the end of life, but for a great many people, it is not desirable. And even if someone finds peace and acceptance in the natural order of things, they may still miss their loved one like crazy. 


2. The person who died had always been there for you

Whether the person who died was a parent, grandparent, friend, or partner – there’s a good chance you’ve known them for a long time. Whether they were a part of your day-to-day life, or you kept in touch with them from a distance, they were always there. Now, you have to learn to live without them for the first time in a long time.


3.  They were your mom or dad.

I don’t care how old you are; it can be devastating to lose a parent. If they were your only parent, you might grapple with what it feels like to be an orphan. In addition to your grief, you may also worry about their grieving grandchildren. Or, if you still have another living parent, you may worry about their welfare now that they’re alone.


4. They were your partner and your best friend.

Perhaps the person who died was your partner or spouse, and, for the first time in a long time, your facing life without them. For more on grieving the death of a spouse or significant other, head here.


5. You’re the same age, dealing with many losses

It’s logical to expect the number of losses one experiences to increase as they grow older. When a person experiences multiple losses in a certain period, they may experience cumulative grief.


6. Your loved one’s physical or mental health may have diminished over time

It may be the case that as your loved one aged, they experienced upsetting physical or mental changes. It’s hard to see someone you love struggle with things like the loss of vitality, independence, memory, cognitive ability, etc. While also juggling things like caregiving stress, grieving the loss of the person they used to be, and anticipatory grief for what’s to come.


7. They may have been the glue that held everyone together

Older family members often fill the role of connecting people within the family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.). They may host all the family gatherings, or they’re the person who keeps in touch with everyone and always knows the latest.  

Older family members also often serve as a connection between generations. They link past to present, share stories, and keep memories. So when they die, it can feel like a wealth of history and tradition has disappeared along with them. 


8. You just really love and miss them

The bottom line is, the person who died was your family member or friend. They were a unique individual who filled a spot in your life that no one can replace. It’s irrelevant whether they were 25 or 85, they were a special person who you will always love – end of story.


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March 29, 2020

8 responses on "Grieving the Death of an Elderly Loved One"

  1. THANK YOU! My sister and I lost both our parents, 80 & 84, in March 2020 – our Mom on March 7 and our Dad on March 31. We have discussed and been puzzled by the fact that people continue to bring up their age in a way that sounds like it should decrease our feelings of pain over the loss. Age had nothing to do with the fact they were our parents, we were their caregivers, we loved them, and they were our best friends. It has been 4 weeks since we lost our Dad, and we are totally overwhelmed by the impact the grief is having on our lives and there seems to also be an unspoken suggestion that we should have been prepared for the loss due to their age. I just found this site, and shared it with my sister. She and I are very close and very lucky to have each other; we also experience pain for each other because we do not like to see the other hurt; and we are both frantically searching for some relief. We were not prepared for the complexities grief brings with it.

  2. My father died in a Kansas nursing home. The pain of losing him is magnified because his death had all the earmarks of pre-meditated murder. But, because he was 82, and the death occured in an assisted living facility, local law enforcement agencies refuse to pursue an investigation. Propublica and PBS among other journalistic agencies have published stories about well-documented cases of suspicious nursing home deaths and murders, and online there are a harrowing number of stories about this. Yet, there is a bias towards investigating nursing home deaths because of the age of the victims.
    Two months before my father died, his regular nursing home physician told our family he should live at least three more years and suggested he live at home. Mandated reporters, including that doctor, knew he was afraid of a particular visitor, but did nothing when, immediately after that doctor’s assessment, his rapid and catastrophic decline and death could not be explained by his pre-existing diagnoses.
    Contrary to Kansas law and KDHE requirements, the death certificate was signed by an out-of-town doctor not connected to his care, who rubber-stamped cause of death as ‘natural’, the day after he was prepared for burial. Because he died in the sequestered community of a nursing home, there was no death investigation protocol or publicity like that which exists for deaths occurring everywhere else, including day cares, prisons or in homes. – Since death is seen as a near certainty for most nursing home residents, rarely are autopsies done and a doctor can sign the death certificate without even seeing the body.

    The State agency overseeing nursing homes, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disabilities, does not have a protocol requiring that all nursing home deaths be investigated. Strangely enough, though, the Kansas Department of Corrections has for some time had a protocol requiring an autopsy and investigation of every inmate death. Refusing to investigate the death of an elderly person is clearly a case of age discrimination.

    Without mandatory death investigations, fatalities resulting from negligence or murders committed with common items such as insulin, pain killers, and eye drops are covered up. Enforcement agencies are guilty of blatant discrimination when they decide that certain groups of people don’t deserve justice. Establishing the truth about cause of death is connected to transparency and accountability. Ridicule and apathy as a response to a request for an investigation reveal a naivete that bad things happen in a setting to which many of us are headed. The truth about cause of death matters every time, every place. How many more hearts will have to take a beating before every State has protocols to investigate all nursing home deaths?

  3. I lost my elderly father two days before Christmas in 2015. I was his sole caretaker and it took a toll by my overeating and hitting the bottle excessively after he passed. I knew what I was doing was wrong but totally stopped on my own and feel much better. My mother passed at ninety in 2008 due to many complications and was surprised he lasted so long after her sailing on. I really don’t have any friends and my distant relatives are far away in another region of the country. They have a big network within an immediate area. The loneliness and chronic depression has been debilitating for me. I was actually going back to post on this venue after reading comments on a link pertaining to displaying departed one’s pictures or not in their homes. Many said they put away their pictures as they were too painful to look as they “trigger” someone’s grief and others have them on one table, mantel, etc. The numerous posts were comforting given the losses many endure and how they cope from family members in accidents, suicides, illnesses from all age ranges. For me, the reality of truly being alone scares me to the core. I don’t mean to come across as insensitive but it’s like you spend a life with someone and then the funeral home hands you your loved one in an urn. Of course, I knew his passing was imminent and realize so many are thrown into turmoil by a sudden loss. I think what I’m trying to convey is you’re haunted by the memories and now realize the silence of my own mother decades ago. You cannot escape no matter where you move to start anew thinking memories won’t follow. I really don’t want to live to be my parent’s age as the thought of it is madness to me. I have no children and worry about who’s going to take care of me if I live to be real elderly?! The loneliness is truly a slow killer. My own health issues the past two years threw my head into the wall about mortality and what’s totally unimportant. Cars, clothes, watches really don’t matter. The only thing anybody should be collecting are memories and hopefully they’re pleasant ones. We all grieve differently and there’s no time frame as to when it should be over. I was never religious as my families were of two different ones which was never really discussed because it was sensitive. The conflict actually set me free but I find I put their pictures out after putting them all away for quite a period after their passing. I placed them in a curio cabinet and I talk to them and pray and ask for comfort and protection and pray for the world and everyone less fortunate than me. As many say, be grateful for what you have instead of what you don’t.

  4. I lost my mom in February 2020. I feel so alone. I have two sisters who seem unaffected. My younger sister made herself busy with her twin boys that are 20 years old and my older sister was busy with herself. My older sister was my fathers favorite and is incredibly selfish. I had my mother living with me for a year while working full time and trying to take care of her with very little help from my sisters even though my older sister lives within walking distance from my home. My mom was starting to fall at home and I couldn’t pick her up so the last 6 months were spent between the hospital and the nursing home. I am trying to maintain my job by cutting back my hours but it is not enough. I am overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis due to working in the hospital as a Respiratory Therapist. I don’t know why I’m writing this….I happened to land on this website and just started reading. Currently, I am not communicating with my sisters. I am angry with the way that my older sister treated my mother and both sisters have not n
    Been there for me or for my mom. Right now, I have made the choice to distance from them for my own self preservation.

  5. I lost my partner of 62 years Jan. 7th, ’20 at age 90 – 63 years – a pretty good run.
    I spent the final 2 1/2 years with him every day from 9am-3pm in a nursing home.
    “Too much time,” others kept telling me. Maybe, but I don’t regret a minute of it.
    It was my choice. He needed me, and I didn’t want not to be there for him.

  6. Oh my gosh…this article is me, my grief (70f 8, just not#5)! My mom died 2 years ago at 92, I cared for her for many years, she lived with me for over 20. Health declined from many issues, all serious. She kept trying, always. Combo of Parkinsonism and heart failure finally wore her out. Everyone loved my Mom, always including all the staff in the hospital during each of her multiple visits. I was her best friend, caregiver, protector in every sense of the word. After an emergency surgery during the last weeks of life, she told me “never to give up on her” I said I would not and meant it. And I lived up to it – with her al through the final days She did not die alone. I love her so much even now and I miss her. It hurts still. I have experienced the points outlined in this article from all directions, even my own sibling – who has easily moved on with his life.

  7. Great article! It seems that minimizing any loss, while common in our death-phobic society, is not okay.

  8. Thank you for this article. I lost my mom in 2015. She was 87 and though she was at peace with dying, I still miss her. I think about her so much.

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