A primary caregiver has a tremendous emotional stake in meeting his or her responsibilities to his loved one. Although taking care of the physical needs of someone who has Alzheimer’s is challenging, a survey of caregivers revealed that their biggest challenge was grief.
When you are a caregiver, your grief is anticipatory. Once you’ve heard the diagnosis and accepted the inevitable outcome, you can’t help but grieve about the future. The future looks bleak, and you may want to grab time and make it stand still.
My first reaction after hearing the Alzheimer’s diagnosis was, “There is medicine for that, isn’t there?” I had paid scant attention to Alzheimer’s, but had heard that treatments had been developed. It was a real wake up call to find out the treatment for Alzheimer’s only helps with symptoms and does not slow down, much less stop, the disease.
Grief for a caregiver is also ambiguous, without a defined beginning or end. You may not begin to grieve until you’ve completed tests to rule out treatable conditions. Since Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed by ruling out other possibilities, you may go through a time when you think that what your loved one has will get better with time. Some of the theories we heard: depression, low blood sugar, vitamin B deficiency, stroke. It’s pretty bad when you latch onto the possibility of a stroke. Yes, strokes are bad, but there is hope that you can recover from a stroke.
After all the tests, and treatments for other possible conditions, Jim continued to lose more skills. So when did the grieving process begin? I’m just not sure. Was it the day he asked me to tune his guitar? Jim was a master musician who played by ear and it always seemed magical to me how he could hear the slightest nuance when something was out of tune. Me, I can’t tune a guitar, never could, and never will be able to, and Jim should have known that. Could it have been the day I realized he could no longer read the books he loved? Maybe it was the time he couldn’t remember how to work the remote control.
I really don’t remember the day when the grieving started, and I can’t remember when it stopped. All I know is that it was always there right beside me throughout the years of dementia and loss. It didn’t even stop when he died. I know a lot of people say their grieving is done before death happens. Well, it didn’t work that way for me. Death was another loss in a series of losses. I wasn’t able to shut the grief off magically.
It’s often the little things that remind me of the great big hole Jim left behind. After I figured all the grieving was finished, and I’d put it behind me, I noticed it at odd times. There was the day I decided to donate his clothes to charity. Yeah, I know I should have done it sooner. I could have given away his clothes once I realized he wouldn’t be wearing anything other than sweatpants, T-shirts, or sweatshirts. No, I waited. I was doing pretty good until I came across his very favorite shirt. I just couldn’t part with it. Maybe some day I’ll be able to, but it felt like trying to let go of his memory and I wasn’t ready.
That’s the thing about grief. It’s personal and lives inside of us. No one can make another person let go of the grief until it is time. You won’t wake up one morning and find that the grief has just gone away. Nope. It leaves when it’s good and ready.
The thing about grief is, you learn to live with it until you can live without it. Eventually, you begin to look forward to the day, to life, and have a greater appreciation of family and friends. You have learned that time is much too precious to waste, and you refuse to let unbridled grief steal it away. The best way to honor the memory of a person you loved and lost is to live life to the fullest.
Copyright (c) July 2013 by L.S. Fisher