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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Family - April 2010

Living After Someone You Love Has Gone
For Caregievers, Grief Can Start Long Before the Loss of Life

Jamie had been caring for her mother, Carol, since Carol was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease more than eight years ago. Jamie enjoyed the "good" days with Carol and endured the bad ones, but she never waivered in her devotion to her mother. She was her mother's champion even when the rest of the family could no longer handle the situation. Now, Carol has been gone for nearly two months and Jamie's family can't figure out why she won't let her mother go.

Grief is an incredibly personal process. It can last from a few days to a few years.

Ohio's area agencies on aging offer caregiver supports and services that can ease the caregiver burden and help manage grief before and after the loss of a loved one. Call 1-866-243-5678 to find resources in your area.

Grief is an incredibly personal process. It can last from a few days to a few years. For some, it may only be a general sense of sadness, but for others it can be crippling. The grieving process is affected by many factors, including belief systems, religion, life experiences and the type of loss suffered. We can experience grief emotionally, physically and even spiritually.

Emotional symptoms of grief include memory gaps, distraction or preoccupation, irritability, depression, euphoria, rage and resignation. Physically, grief can cause low energy or exhaustion, headaches, stomach upset and changes in sleep patterns (either too much or not enough). Spiritually, grief can strengthen religious beliefs or make an individual challenge or reject them. It is generally believed that grief is a process with distinct stages, including emotional release, depression, guilt, anger, hope and acceptance.

Grief is a natural response to loss. Caregivers can experience grief not just from the loss of life, but from the loss of living. Caregivers can experience loss from witnessing the pain, sadness and difficulties of a loved one on a regular basis. They also may lose some of their own independence, including sacrificing goals and personal satisfaction to care for another. Then, when the loved one passes away, they may feel as though their own life has lost its purpose and direction.

Some people are easily overwhelmed with grief and find it difficult to function day to day. For caregivers, this often isn't an option while our loved ones are still with us. This gives caregivers a unique opportunity to manage their grief over time. There are many things a caregiver can do to help minimize and deal with grief.

  • Be more than a caregiver. While caregiving seems to consume any free time, it is essential that caregivers make opportunities to live for themselves. This can be as simple as just carving out some "me" time to read, take a walk, go to dinner or connect with friends.
  • Use a network. Very often, caregivers fail to seek help. They may feel disproportionately responsible for their loved ones' well being, be concerned that others wouldn't provide the same level of care or worry about foisting their burdens on friends and family. The key is to understand that different people can perform different roles. Someone may be able to run errands for you, another may be better suited to sit with your loved one while you do the running.
  • Mind your own health. Caregivers are often so preoccupied with their loved ones' illness that they ignore their own wellness. While it is easy to sacrifice eating well, exercising, getting regular check ups and allowing yourself to get sick, you may be doing everyone a disservice.
  • Write it down. For many, writing is a form of emotional release. Keep a journal or write letters to a confidante. The writings don't even have to be for anyone else to see. Just putting pen to paper regularly gives you the opportunity to organize your thoughts and work through difficult emotions.

Jamie's grief started long before her mother died and may seem out of proportion to those around her. It is important that she be allowed to grieve in her own way, but she also needs to take ownership of her grief and seek help from loved ones, friends and, where appropriate, professionals.