The Lack of Compassion for Those Who Mourn the Elderly

Girl Crying by =Rayzoir

“Girl Crying” by =Rayzoir

During one of my most painful moments, I didn’t expect the magnitude of my pain to be minimized by one arbitrary factor. Age.

I’ll never forget when I called a friend, crying about a death in my family only to hear her say, “Oh, it was your grandma? She was old, right?… Oh, okay… You’ll be alright.” Somewhere down the line, I failed to realize that the death of an elderly person is apparently, not really a loss.

What I gathered from my friend’s curt sentiments was: My grandmother’s death was sad, but nothing major, and that I needed to stop being so emotional about it.  It made me wonder, how does someone who I loved so much, simply becomes deduced to a dead old lady? Was I being too sensitive? Should I have mourned my grandmother’s death with less intensity? Or maybe, I should have quietly mourned and not seek out the support of friends. I did notice that I received more sympathy with my grandfather’s passing because he died from a car accident, which taught me that tragedy trumps old age when determining the significance of a person’s death.

I never understood why so many people are less sympathetic when an elderly loved one is bereaved.  I don’t get the logic behind it. When someone was old, his or her departure should be less painful? I understand that in a sense, a child or young person dying is more tragic because they weren’t able to live a long life and fulfill their dreams. I also understand that there were endless possibilities that will never come into fruition. Nonetheless, does it negate the life of someone who was old? Yes, a person’s old age might soften the blow a little, but it still hurts like hell. That person may have lived a long life, but that also means that person created and shared a lifetime of memories, which will leave a huge void for the living.

When I mourned the death of my 82-year-old grandmother, my tears were indifferent to her age. My tears were for the woman who flew from Miami to New York to witness my birth and to help my first-time parents take care of me for a month.  My tears were for a woman who created dresses for my Barbie dolls on her sewing machine. A woman who stood in front of the stove for hours to cook 4 course meals for her family everyday from scratch, even though my grandpa told her that it was unnecessary and that she worked too hard. She was far from perfect, but as many of us do, I understood the reasons for some of her flaws and limitations when she passed away.

I also mourned the woman who wandered around and forgot her own name due to Alzheimer’s disease, but despite that, she never forgot my name. I mourned the woman who somehow managed to remember that I had medical problems. She would ask my mother if I was okay and would tell her that she could take care of me and cook for me. I don’t know how she etched into her memory that I was sick, because my illness started during the time she had Alzheimer’s. I like to think she remembered because she loved me so much. These are some of the many reasons why my tears flowed abundantly for her.

During the last two years of my grandmother’s life, I mourned the loss of the person she once was, since she changed drastically due to Dementia, which eventually progressed into Alzheimer’s. When she died, I was mourning the fact she was no longer here on earth with me. What especially hurt was my inability to hold her again, have a conversation with her, or taste her delicious food. Maybe, this pain only merited the text messages that some of my friends sent me as opposed to the phone calls and in person visits that I so needed and desired. In my mind, I saw this as life changing event that deserved some type of empathy.

The motivating force behind some people’s apathy for my loss is beyond me, but it makes me wonder if that friend would have the same attitude when her grandparents or parents die of old age. I do understand that there’s a tendency for people to only care about things that directly affect themselves. I know it’s apart of the human nature, but for some reason I always expect more. I say this because everyone has his or her turn to mourn, and everyone will need a shoulder to cry on when it happens. No one is exempt from this painful part of the life cycle.

I stumbled across an article about a herd of grieving elephants that touched me. It was about a herd of elephants that were revisiting the place where a member of their herd died, which is customary for a grieving herd. They were so grief-stricken that they destroyed things around the site where the elephant was killed. After reading this article, I decided to do some light research on how elephants grieve.

Elephants have such an understanding of the pain of losing a loved one that they will even grieve an elephant that was not from their herd. Elephants will also grieve a human if they come across one that is deceased. One woman recounted that she was sleeping under a tree when a herd of elephants placed branches and twigs on her and began screaming. She stayed still because she feared for her life. She was later told that they were burying her and screaming out of grief because they thought she was dead.

How powerful is it that elephants can grieve for a being outside of their species? There is a lot to be said how elephants respond to death. I think humanity could learn a lot from them.

No matter how you try to paint the picture, death, regardless of the deceased’s age, is a tribulation for the people left behind.  A loss is a loss.

~In Loving Memory of Roselle

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