Alzheimer’s 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 you love 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.
Let Yourself Grieve
Often, family dementia caregivers feel they shouldn’t burden others with their feelings; however, this thinking keeps us from healing. However, giving yourself and others permission to process and grieve is the best way to heal. Find support through family, friends, members of your faith-based community, or a counselor. Support groups can also be very helpful. If you’re not ready to talk about your feelings quite yet, journal or write about them. This is a great first step towards venting, rather than keeping your feelings bottled up. Find time for yourself each day, whether it’s to cry, relax, or to let go of the day’s stress, anxiety and the responsibilities of care giving.
Allow Yourself the Time
When working to overcome grief, give yourself time. It’s easy to think that just because we can be logical about our grief and pain, we can overcome it quickly. After you’ve begun to talk about your grief, time will help you to accept and cope with it — which can slowly lead you to move forward. The memories will remain, but painful feelings will lessen in intensity. Give yourself time to pass through each stage of grief, and understand that grief very personal, and will be experienced differently.
The stages of grief include: denial, turmoil, anger/fear, depression, anticipation and acceptance. You may or may not experience each of these stages fully, and not necessarily in this order, so be flexible with yourself. You may also bounce between the stages or return to some. If you feel stuck in any of the stages, seek a counselor. Oftentimes, grief leads to depression, which can be especially difficult to recognize and recover from without outside help. Grieving is a normal process, but should be temporary.
“Life is Goodbye, Life is Hello,” by Alla Renee Campbell
“Living Through Personal Crisis,” by Ann Kaiser Stearns
“Good Grief,” by Granger E. Westberg