Nursing Home Resources: Dealing with Death and Grief

The seven stages of grief provide a loose model for the progression people typically experience as they process a loss. It's important to realize that the stages of grief form a general guide only: Actual experiences will differ widely, with people experiencing the stages in virtually any order and for varying time periods. People outside of the grief process won't always understand it, and they may exert pressure on those grieving to rush through it, but it simply cannot be rushed. Grief after a nursing home has neglected your loved one is more difficult to handle.

Shock and Denial

Learning of a loss usually results in feelings of stunned disbelief. It's common for individuals to respond with denial. This denial may be a frank refusal to believe that the loss occurred, or it could be at a more subconscious level that manifests itself in an effort to avoid the pain. The initial shock serves as emotional protection, preventing the bereaved from being overwhelmed with pain. Some people exist in the state of shock and denial for weeks.

  • Coping With Grief and Loss (PDF): The shock felt after a loss can be so crushing that it's common to feel frightened of the feelings.

  • Stages of Grief: Denial serves as an emotional buffer, protecting an individual from the crushing feelings immediately after a loss.

Pain and Guilt

As the initial shock dissipates, the waves of unbearable pain set in. This pain can be excruciating and overwhelming. Some people think they can't survive a pain this great. As severe as this pain is, it's necessary to experience it fully to move through it. Hiding from it, avoiding it, or numbing it with alcohol and drugs will not make it go away: Instead, the pain will become insidious and even greater. Guilt is another aspect of this stage, often manifesting with the pain. Some people experience regrets and remorse over things said and done or things not said and done. Many people feel out of control and scared during this stage.

Anger and Bargaining

Questions invariably surface during grief. Some people feel frustrated and even angry during the next stage. Blame may arise, either directed at others, at the deceased, or inward. Other people resort to bargaining as they process the grief. They may petition God, looking for a way out of the loss: Making promises to regain a loved one is common.

  • The Five Stages of Grief and Loss (PDF): Once the bereaved moves out of the initial shock and pain, bargaining may occur in an attempt to feel better.

  • Grief Overview (PDF): Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness often give way to anger during this stage of grieving.

  • Death and Grief: Feelings about the unfairness of death can cause deep anger, which may even be projected onto others.

  • Activities to Help Children Deal With Grief: Creating a memory jar of a deceased loved one can be one way to grieve together. Memories of special times with grandparents in nursing homes can be collected as a therapeutic activity.

  • Dealing With Grief: The Five Stages of Grief: Helping children feel and express anger safely is an important part of helping them grieve.

Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness

Depression tends to set in as the reality of the loss becomes apparent. This stage often occurs as outsiders begin to encourage the bereaved to reconnect with others to "get on with life." As well-meaning as these people can be, this encouragement may cause more depression because the bereaved doesn't feel ready to leave the past behind. This stage is also a time of profound reflection and loneliness. The full brunt of the loss often becomes a reality. It's common to reflect on memories as well as all of the things that will never happen again. Despair is common.

The Upward Turn

The clouds will eventually begin to part. Slowly, the bereaved will begin to adjust to life after the loss. It becomes easier to get through the days, and thoughts are often less jumbled and chaotic. Physical symptoms of sadness and depression will begin to fade, and daily organization becomes possible again.

Reconstruction and Working Through

As daily functioning becomes a habit once again, reconstruction is possible. The mind clears, and the individual is able to think about problems and possibly even work on solutions. Restructuring life without the deceased is something the bereaved can consider and work toward. This may involve solving financial issues or a living situation.

Acceptance and Hope

Accepting the reality finally becomes possible, but this does not guarantee happiness. The pain of the loss is something that will never completely dissipate, but the bereaved individual learns to find a way through it to the point of acceptance and hope. It's possible to begin planning for the future again. The loss will never be gone, but in this stage, it's possible to think about the deceased without overwhelming sadness.