Grief is the natural, common response to a loss. And loss is a human experience. Therefore, we each experience loss in one form or another. We tend to most often think of grief after the death of a loved one. However, grief occurs along the journey — along the journey of life (divorce, loss of friendships, job loss, etc.) and along the caregiver journey. We can experience the anticipation of loss — grief that our loved one is no longer the person they once were with diminished physical abilities and/or diminished mental capabilities especially with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. And in addition, the loss of our own identity, including the the loss we feel as our role of caregiver will ultimately change.
Our society gives us all kinds of messages about how to handle grief and many of them are about either denial or holding on too tight. I’m offering us an opportunity to embrace grief without allowing us to be consumed by it. Let’s view it as it is — energy in motion — and allow it to flow over us like a wave fully trusting that we will not drown. Trying to suppress or ignore these feelings will only cause more pain and will trap it in our bodies. We need to give grief space to breathe and move through us.
Self-Care is Vital
Grief is an emotional wound to our heart and I believe it is in direct proportion to our loving. Trying to be stoic and appear with the facade of having it ‘all together’ is not beneficial at all. There are times that we just need to let our hearts break. And self-care is paramount during these times. Take time out to just be and to recharge. Surround yourself with supportive people who are there for you. Just feel and let your heart break for what was. Wanting and wishing for a different outcome is futile and will expend your precious energy.
Grief can be a constant companion along the journey of caring for a loved one. Sometimes it is front and center and other times it is pushed to the background or sent to the sideline. Asking the ‘why’ questions or trying to figure out the answers to what it all means with our rational brain is futile. Remember that grief is a wound to our heart so trying to make sense of it with our mind will only lead to more heartaches. Instead be curious and invite it to show you a message or gift.
When we think of this end-of-life journey we are all on — some closer than others — and with the fact that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, we have a wonderful opportunity to live well now. And as caregivers that also means grieving — for what was, and for the further decline and death of our loved ones that is to come. We can however, practice a few things that can support us:
- Practice gratitude: regardless of what is happening in our life, there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for. Choose to focus on that.
- Be open to the unknown and the uncertainty of the situation: a common response to the unknown is fear and fear usually results in some type of restriction. Consciously choose to open up and trust that even in those low moments when you cannot see what is to come, that you will be guided toward the next step.
Take good care of yourself and know that while we each travel our own path on this journey called life, we are never alone. Allow yourself to be supported.