We need to talk about death in old age

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An anonymous blogger has written this post, which we absolutely love…

I have never understood why we are expected to grieve differently for old people who have died. Firstly, there is no standard definition of old age. Does it start at retirement? Is it contextualised by the average longevity of someone’s relatives? What if someone does not view themselves as old at all? If we presume that someone could reasonably die of old age once they reach their seventies, we could spend thirty years waiting for it to happen. I am roughly thirty years old, which means that I could know someone for a whole lifetime and be told that their death was to be expected at any point. I can’t accept this.

Grief is an agent of chaos

People often talk about grieving families being robbed of time with their loved ones if their loved ones died young. If someone dies old, the implication is that your time with them was not cut short. The problem with this is that it assumes that your timelines on earth were aligned. What if you were born when they were old? You might not have expected to have them in your life indefinitely, but you can still mourn the fact that they will never know you beyond a certain age. You grow up never knowing many milestones you will be able to hit before they die. The clock starts ticking as soon as you are aware that there is a clock, and you may experience a childhood of anticipatory grief as you think about how empty your future will feel without them.

No set formula for grief

Grief is an agent of chaos. It does not fit neatly into timescales, regardless of how much bereavement leave or bereavement counselling we are allocated. It does not lead us through the Kübler-Ross stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and meaning in any kind of order, and there is no guarantee that we will even experience them at all. There is no set formula for what kind of grief you may experience for the loss of a certain person in your life; no neat category. If only there were. No, the grief you will experience will be entirely personal and will depend on the relationship you had with the person who died, whatever their age, whatever their connection to you. A life lost is a life lost.

Their deaths still came as a shock

I was brought up by my grandparents, so I mourn them as if they were my parents. If I marry, they will not be there. If I have children, they will not know them. We had less time than some other families have together, but I had no way of guessing how much time we would have within my thirty years. Their deaths still came as a shock. I am not tormented by what could have been, because I always tried to limit my expectations. That did not protect me from the pain of losing the two most important people in my life and neither does it stop me from wishing that it could have been otherwise.

In the end, my grief is still there. My grief is no less valid.


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