Mary watches her mother’s body and mind be ravaged by Multiple Sclerosis, the agonizing decision to move her mom to a local nursing home, breaks Mary’s heart.
I adjust to the physical and mental changes that occur after my mother’s hemorrhagic stroke, but I find myself grieving the woman she once was.
When her father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Lisa begins the long “good-bye” that comes ten years before his death.
As his wife Julie battles cancer, John watches the crippling side effects of treatment causing everyday tasks to cause major challenge. Together they navigate therapy, adopt new routines and gather support, but so much has changed. When John faces the final change two years later when Julie dies, he talks about grieving twice.
Many of us experience a sense of loss when a loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or life as we know it changes forever. We hope that everything will return to “normal” but often in a short time, we are slapped in the face by reality. THIS is our new normal, this is our life NOW.
Seeing a loved one’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health change can make us feel like we have lost a part of them. Whenever there is a loss, there is the need to grieve – for them, and for us. The grief we experience is a personal and unique journey similar to what one deals with after a loved one’s death.
Unfortunately, many of us we hide our emotions from others and feel guilty for being sad, since the person is still alive. We beat ourselves up when what we need is to understand and recognize the things we have lost.
How do we come to terms with our new reality as we watch a loved one adapt to illness or ageing?
- Acknowledge what is happening, do not deny reality. Live with what is happening today.
- Identify the changes you see in the person and grieve for those qualities they have lost, and the ways your relationship has changed.
- Continue to see your loved one as a whole person despite their diminished capabilities.
- Share a positive story or statement with them every time you are in their presence. Remember that humor is okay even though a crisis has occurred.
- Adopt an attitude of gratitude, even though this is difficult – find small blessings in each day.
- Take time to find new ways to interact with your loved one and never forget the power of touch.
- Locate a caregiver’s support group in your community (hospitals and churches often offer these groups – if your loved one resides at a long-term care center, check with them as well).
- Journal your thoughts about the grief you are feeling or ask a trusted friend if they are willing to listen. A letter to the person that you write but never sent is a powerful tool to sort out your feelings.
- Take pictures along the way – this allows you to retrace your journey as time passes.
Some of us begin to grieve for a loved one long before their physical death. Small deaths occur simultaneously as they age or when diagnosed with a life threatening disease.
Often our “good-bye” begins years before their funerals and that can be a very difficult journey. Grief, although extremely difficult, has the potential to bring wholeness and healing where we were broken.
Take care of yourself and give yourself permission to grieve your losses – your body, and mind and spirit will thank you!