As members of the Baby Boomer Generation, we are connected to a large population of people who are often looked upon as influential because of the number of people associated with the group. We are trail blazers, trendsetters and a population of individuals who can dictate which city would be popular for retirees and which financial stocks would make us prosperous. We can create a “fad” because we are in company with so many others. There has been no shortage of articles written lately with proven statistics that the population who are Baby Boomers can influence society in many ways. Could they influence the grief world as well?
To most, being a Baby Boomer carries the dream to retire with a great nest egg, lead a healthy life style and experience exciting adventures, while at the same time enjoying grown children and spoiling grandchildren. For some, this beautifully described life may be interrupted by the loss of a loved one due to illness or death. Whether the loss is a spouse/partner, sibling, parent, friend or child, the setback is unimaginable, changing who we are forever. There is nothing that can prepare us for the emotional derailment of the future that has been envisioned when we experience a loss. I am a Baby Boomer as well as a widow; and I lost my mother when she was sixty-nine, which taught me firsthand about the derailment that occurs when we lose someone prematurely.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity of joining eight healthy moms I met through my daughter’s high school for a beautiful hike in the Rocky Mountains. As I got out of the car at the trailhead, I realized that four of the eight of us had been widowed before we were fifty years of age for different reasons; arrhythmia, melanoma, a rare protein disease and a ski accident. Fifty percent of our hike group was widowed, changing the vision of the life that we always dreamed would occur. On our own, we continue to raise our children, figure out our finances, take care of the house, work through our emotions and rewrite the scripts of our golden years.
My thoughts immediately went to the four other women who have not been widowed. They were in awe of our ability to go on, talk about our losses, insecurities and the landscape of the unknown in front of us as we continue on our grief journey. It occurred to me that there was no way that they could possibly know what to say or how to react to our conversation, which made it uncomfortable for them even though they were intrigued by the openness with which we shared our emotions and experience.
As I pondered our hike with the ladies who are still happily married and were struggling to relate to those of us who had been widowed, I thought of the Baby Boomer population. The enormously large population of people who will age gracefully over the next 25 or more years inevitably will lose their parents, spouses and friends. I played out my grief journey in my mind and wondered if my friends and family knew exactly how I felt when my husband passed away, or if they “really” knew what I needed at the time? The truth is they could never imagine what I was going through or what I really needed until they experienced the grief themselves.
If I had all the powers in the world, I would love to be able to educate the world on grief and loss so people could understand the pain and suffering endured following the death of a loved one. Although we could read every book on the shelf teaching ourselves about the intellectual and logical phases of grief, that would not address the emotions grievers are living with on a daily basis. It would be truly impossible to create a hypothetical situation on dealing with grief for educational purposes, because emotions are not something you can role play. Instead I think the education should include the awareness that there are different phases of grief, and most importantly how to support friends, family members and co-workers while they are grieving. We cannot take the pain away, but we can help with the grief journey by being supportive and nonjudgmental.
I have facilitated a Baby Boomer Widow(er) group for over five years, as well as a Loss of a Parent group and have been around many different grievers who have had their lives disrupted by devastation. They all have similar thoughts: “my family and friends have no idea of what I am going through or how to be there for me.” How could they? My family hovered over me when my husband passed away paralyzed as to how to help me. If you have a grieving friend, family member or co-worker, here are a few tips to help them through their grief journey.
Be a good listener
Most grievers when they feel comfortable enough to share their story and feelings will talk for hours about their loved one, the loss and how much pain they are in. Just listen to them. Try not to “fix” the situation with clichés and words of wisdom. Just listen with passion.
Support daily living
Many grievers have very little energy, and daily living is often neglected. If you ask what they need, most will not be able to provide an answer, so look for what they need. Maybe it is driving the carpool, buying groceries, cutting the lawn, babysitting children, making a meal, emptying the dishwasher, washing the clothes, turning off the sprinkler system for the winter or cleaning their house. While these sound simple, the simplest tasks are sometimes the hardest.
Stay in touch
Reality of the loss does not occur immediately; as the days and weeks go by, the griever will begin to realize how different life has become without their loved one. For those who have not experienced a loss, we often feel we should not mention the loved ones name when in fact that is exactly what the griever wants us to do. So after the initial loss, stay in touch. Your physical presence is very much needed.
Be aware of important dates
Birthdays, anniversaries and milestone events take on a new meaning when you have lost a loved one. The anticipation of the date is often harder than the actual date. Be aware of the needs of the bereaved and be attentive. Send personal notes in the mail and be available for their needs.
As the largest population of Baby Boomers ages, the number of deaths will increase, resulting in more people grieving and even more people not knowing how to help. As a society, if we can embrace the truth that grieving citizens are a reality and we need to know how to interact with them, we will all be more tolerant of those who are suffering. Increasing education of grief in our communities will help those who are suffering a loss to get through their personal journeys and to prepare us for when it is our turn. As Baby Boomers, we can influence the grief world and help those around us.
About the Author
Rachel Kodanaz entered the grief world in 1992 when her young husband suddenly passed away leaving her with a two-year-old daughter. After several years of finding her path through grief, and as part of her recovery, she became active in supporting others who were suffering a loss. Currently, Rachel is the Executive Director of HeartLight Grief and Loss Center located in Denver. She facilitates numerous groups including a Baby-Boomer Widow Support Group (5+ years), Loss of a Parent Support Group, multi-day workshops, keynote addresses and training classes.
In conjunction with her work at HeartLight Center, Rachel has published a four-week program titled Facing the Mourning ©. The program is designed to help grievers who are experiencing an anticipated death or have experienced a loss using interactive tools to support their grief journey.
Rachel’s experience in management in large corporations led her to develop and publish material to support the workplace when dealing with a grieving employee or workgroup. Her program, Grief in the Workplace © emphasizes educating managers and co-workers prior to a death. Rachel presents to and educates corporations, communities, not-for-profit organizations, funeral directors and conferences.
Rachel has published numerous articles and grief programs, and she is a columnist for Living with Loss magazine. She participated in a grief segment on Good Morning America. She completed the World Championship Hawaiian Ironman honoring her late husband.