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The Long Goodbye

Alzheimer’s disease lasts an average of 10-15 years and is marked by progressive loss of mental capabilities, physical function and social skills. The impact for family members and loved ones is profound, but often goes unrecognized. Sadness and grief, triggered by the long, slow journey of losing someone beloved may present as a range of physical responses, such as sleeplessness, loss of appetite or overeating, low energy, exhaustion and tension. Many also experience additional emotional responses to loss, such as guilt, loneliness, isolation, anger and depression. The severity of these physical and emotional responses typically depends on the loss and the closeness of relationship. The journey is unique for everyone.

It's OK to Grieve

Often, family dementia or Alzheimer’s caregivers feel they shouldn’t burden others with their feelings; however, this thinking keeps us from healing. However, people can give themselves permission to process and grieve in order to heal. Support can be found through family, friends, members of a church or social organization, or a professional counselor. Support groups can be also be very helpful, but if talking about feelings with strangers isn’t comfortable, journaling can be therapeutic too. Whether talking or writing or both, venting feelings is usually better than bottling them up.

Each day, it’s healthy to find time to cry, relax, just let go of the day’s stress or anxiety.

It Takes Time

There is no set timeline for grief. After talking about grief, it typically takes time to accept and cope with the loss and this will eventually lead to moving forward. The memories will remain as painful feelings lessen in intensity. Experts agree that there are five stages of grief (not always in the same order):

  1. Denial and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Grief is personal and every person experiences it differently. Some may bounce between the stages of grief, others may not barely experience some of them.

Recommended Reading

Reading about how others have coped with loss can be helpful. Consider these:

Life is Goodbye, Life is Hello,” by Alla Renee Campbell

Living Through Personal Crisis,” by Ann Kaiser Stearns

Good Grief,” by Granger E. Westberg

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