Loss, death, and aging

Loss of family members and friends.

The loss of a family member or close friend can be very difficult and traumatizing. I know, since I lost several close family members over the course of my life from an early age. The trauma from these events can mark us last for many years. We think of ourselves as resilient beings, able to manage these losses with minimal support. I now wish I could have had more support to navigate this process more easily.

Loss is a part of living; it is a common occurrence that is difficult to avoid in one’s lifetime. Loss is not only experienced through the death or departure of a loved one. One can lose a pet, a home, a precious object, all of which can leave scars that are difficult to heal. The most difficult thing about loss is the irreplaceable nature of the person or object. The grieving process can bring us through various emotions, some of which, like envy, shame, or rage, can be very challenging to accept when one is grieving.

Loss is also one of the first experiences of life. As infants, we learn about loss through something as simple as the disregard of a caregiver or through other more challenging events. We might build defenses around our experiences of loss, and this influences our future ability to adapt to and to deal with losses–of more significant magnitude–based on how we received support and guidance around these earlier experiences. Whatever the case, all of these losses can be managed through the careful attention of a skilled therapist able to recognize, hold, and honor the complex dimensions of one’s grieving process.

Aging, Death & Dying.

My maternal grandfather was my greatest teacher about being an elder. I learned from him what I value in all the elders with whom I’ve worked since then: An undeniable wisdom comes with life experience. I was drawn to care for the elderly and the terminally ill early in my adult life. My natural inclination toward caregiving helped build a foundation for my later interests. At the beginning of my psychology career, I completed training in a residential care facility for the elderly. I later became clinical director in such a facility, training and supervising interns in aging and long-term care. I have continued supervising these interns because I believe the needs of the elderly and the issues they are facing deserve the special attention of someone who understands the complexities of end-of-life issues. In fact, being an elder is a privilege to behold. It’s an honor for me to work with people who have the wisdom of time in their life experience.

With aging comes growing concerns about approaching death, though it’s something many of us might prefer not to think about. I have assisted many people in their transitions, both the dying person and his or her loved ones. I greatly value assisting in and being present for this challenging transitional process. I also know that, with the right attention and care, the process can be incredibly touching and deeply transformational.