Death and dying: elderly persons’ experiences of grief over the loss of family members
Background: Death is one of life’s few certainties and a universal experience for all individuals. When death occurs there is usually an impact on the family and friends of the deceased, the magnitude of which often depends on whether death was expected or unexpected. The grieving experiences of the elderly are rarely discussed. The purpose of this study was to describe experiences of grief and reactions to the death of family members amongst the elderly.
Methods: A qualitative phenomenological approach was used to obtain data from elderly women in Ga-Rankuwa, Gauteng, to gain insight into the experiences of grief in this age group. Purposive sampling was used to conduct in-depth interviews with 10 elderly women whose family members had died. The data were analysed using a thematic approach.
Results: The findings show that the elderly were exposed to multiple deaths of family members. The participants helplessly experienced with sorrow the death of family members, had experienced death anxiety, and relinquished control to God in terms of deaths.
Conclusions: The response to death of the elderly affirms that it cannot be assumed that multiple death experiences establish their readiness or ability to handle these experiences and to grieve successfully. It can be concluded that the grieving process of the elderly is not different from any other age group and that they will also require the type of support and assistance considered for younger persons in times of grieving.
Keywords: death anxiety, God’s control, grieving, helplessness, sorrow