Good Grief

Anyone who cares for an aging loved one will eventually experience loss and the grief that comes with it. Sometimes this loss is due to the death of the person for whom you care. When you care for someone you love through their final days, you may find yourself on holy ground. Here is Betsy’s experience with this:

My mother’s death came so much more quickly than anyone imagined it would after her fall late last October. With successful surgery to repair the break, her doctor thought she had an excellent chance to recover fully. Within days, we felt this would not be the case because mentally she was never the same after the fall. My brother and I decided to bring her home rather than placing her in a Skilled Care Rehab Facility and to involve a local hospice provider with her care at home. With Home Instead’s CAREGivers staffing around the clock, we had a care plan that could carry us through to the end, which we thought might be six months or more.

At the end of the first week, I went home to Virginia to care for my own family, and to allow her care plan to evolve. Three weeks later, I returned and stayed until her death 27 days after my return. Those days held a lifetime of memories. My mom shared stories of her life that I had never heard before. We talked about Heaven, and who she would see again there. We visited with friends who stopped by and watched Hallmark Christmas movies, The Andy Griffith Show, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. My brother came daily, and everyone who came took the opportunity to say goodbye in their own way.

I tried so hard not to cry when I was with my mother, but sometimes the tears would spill over as I watched her wither away. There was so much to be grateful for in her last days. She was not in pain after the surgical incision healed. She never felt any of the discomforts that sometimes accompany death. She simply faded away, and on her last day, she never spoke as her breathing gradually slowed and then stopped. I felt relief that her struggle, and my wait, was over. I felt an incredible loss that the person who had known me longer and loved me unconditionally was gone. But mostly I praised God for gently taking her home to be with Him.

Everyone says your first year after the death of someone close to you is hard. Every holiday, every birthday, every particular moment, is your first without this loved one in your life. With each passing moment or event, you may feel grief wash over you. You might experience it as anger or disappointment that you cannot share this with your loved one; you might feel incredible sadness when their birthday comes. Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, or Mother’s and Father’s Day can be especially hard. But it’s vital that you accept your loss and cherish the time you had as a caregiver.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross established five stages of grief in 1969 in her book, On Death and Dying. Inspired by her work with terminally ill people, Dr. Ross observed five emotions experienced by most terminally ill people, or by family members of those that had died. The feelings are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While later research has mostly challenged her findings, the Kubler-Ross is still helpful in validating the various emotions experienced by a loved one who is dying, or by the Family Caregiver who finds him or herself in this situation. It is important to note that not everyone experiences all of Kubler-Ross’s stages, and grief’s emotional spectrum may manifest itself in any order, or sometimes not at all. It may take days, weeks, months, or even years, for the various feelings to manifest.

Grief has many stages, and everyone grieves differently. There’s no right or wrong way to mourn a loss, and Family Caregivers may experience many kinds of loss during their caregiving season of life. Grief has no schedule, but it will lessen over time if you let yourself embrace it and hold it while it ebbs and flows through you. Just be true to yourself, and cry when you need to do so. You don’t always have to be strong because sometimes even Family Caregivers need to let someone else care for them.



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