Grieving in Small Steps

Recently, I met a woman whose son died in a tragic car accident. One minute he was alive with plans for a wonderful future. The next minute, he was lying in a coffin. A terrible event with intense grief.

For families with loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s, the grief comes in small steps. We know the end of the story and while we don’t have any idea what day our loved one will graduate to heaven – we do know the end will come.

But the grief may not be as intense, all at one time, as it was for the mother I met.

Alzheimer’s grief comes and goes with each regression into the disease. This is one reason why it is called, “The Long Good-bye.”

With my mom, the most intense grief happened at the initial diagnosis. Because our family lived through Dad’s dementia, we had an idea of what we faced with Mom. Once that MRI came back with its definitive image, we faced the truth about Mom’s future.

My first grief reaction was actually anger. How unfair that my mother should have to be sentenced to this horrible disease. Then came the sadness, a piece at a time: when she could no longer find her pots and pans in the kitchen, when she forgot to eat, when we had to make the decision to put her into assisted living.

I know what some of the next steps of grief will be: when Mom forgets who I am, when she crosses that line of communication where she no longer speaks, when we have to move her into the nursing home area of the building.

As horrible as it sounds, for caregivers that final grief is actually a release. When our loved one finally graduates to heaven and we know their minds are suddenly clear, we’re happy for them. Our day-to-day sadness turns to joy because we know the sounds of the long good-bye have finally been silenced.

Grief is difficult, no matter how it happens – whether in an intense moment or in bit and pieces. None of us grieves in the same way and no one can tell us how to do it well. We have to find our way through that tunnel alone.

But one thing we do know – all of us at one time or another will grieve. We will feel the emotions of loss whether it’s from death, unemployment or the end of a dream.

The trick is to somehow find hope in the midst of that unraveling of emotions and be grateful for the life our loved ones have lived.

Grief means we have experienced love and whether it comes all at once or in small steps – abiding in love  restores hope.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Long Distance Caregiving – Emotional Dynamics

Living with Alzheimers and/or dementia causes a host of emotions—especially for caregivers.hands heart

Mom’s emotions aren’t that difficult. She lives in a contented land where all she has to worry about is where she put her teeth during the night and can she find her underwear the next day. Even then, somebody helps her with those questions.

But for the rest of us—whew boy! Until I entered this journey with my siblings, I had no idea of the emotions that might swirl around us.

As the LDC, there is of course, the emotion of guilt. But it is a false guilt, a self-condemnation because I can’t be in Oklahoma all the time, helping with Mom.

At the same time, I’m glad for my life in Kansas and the work I do. I’m proud of the ministry and the incredible women I help as well as my growing coaching practice and my writing life.

Guilt raises its ugly head whenever something happens, and I’m too far away to help. Then when I visit Mom, guilt rides home with me because I can drive away and my siblings can’t.

Another emotion that affects us is grief. One possible advantage of dealing with Alzheimers is that we grieve little by little rather than in one traumatic explosion. With each change and every increase in confusion, with each memory lapse, we grieve a little more.

We understand that these lapses will grow in frequency until Mom no longer knows who we are.

We also know that some day, Mom will stop breathing and this horrid journey will be over. So we don’t have to deal with a terrible shock of a tragic death. Mom dies a little bit every day, right in front of us.

Each time I drive to Oklahoma and then back to Kansas, it takes about 10 days to process my emotions, journal about them and return to some place of normalcy. I can only imagine the emotional toll on my siblings.

I don’t know if the emotions will ever ease, or if we’ll just grow in the need for more grace.

But that’s why it’s important that caregivers take care of ourselves—whether we’re right in the thick of it or dealing with it long distance.

Emotions can tear us apart or make us stronger. I hope to finish well.