The loss of a loved one with Alzheimer's or a related dementia can be very difficult on the caregiver.
Often more so than other types of deaths because (as happened to Ann) one has already been grieving, usually for many years, over the loss of the person the loved one was.
How can one ever move on?
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By Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room
I previously published on this site three articles dealing with grief: a general article on the topic, an article about grieving for the loved one before they even die (anticipatory grief), and another article about grief that never ends (complicated grief).
The purpose of this article is to provide guidance on overcoming this final grief and returning to life with renewed vigor and pleasure.
The literature on grief enumerates three general tips for moving on: 1) Give yourself time to grieve, 2) Take up a hobby about which you become passionate, 3) Find a new purpose in life. Let’s look at each one.
1. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
Grieving the loss of a loved one takes time. It isn’t unusual to grieve for years. Everyone grieves in their own way and on their own timetable. Grief is usually not constant, but may come and go with no apparent reason. Grieving will most likely overlap with finding a meaningful hobby and developing a new purpose in life.
Here is some advice for grieving, compiled from the following articles: carepages.com; fightdementia.org; helpguide.org.
- Take care of yourself physically
- Join a support group
- See a counselor
- Consult your spiritual leader and take comfort in your faith
- Keep a journal to chronicle your grief
- Remember it’s OK to cry; tears are healing
- Cherish the belongings of the person
- Reminisce about your loved one
- Develop comforting rituals that continue your bond with the person
- Accept help from family and friends
- Create lasting tributes to the person, such as a scholarship, bench or charitable contribution
- See your family doctor regularly because illnesses are more common during a period of grief
When you were a caregiver you probably didn’t have time for pampering yourself, let alone taking up a new hobby. Or if you previously had a hobby you probably had to give it up.
Now that you have free time on your hands you will most likely have plenty of time to pick up the lapsed hobby or start a new one.
Make sure you find something about which you can become passionate. It may take a while to find the right activity, but keep trying different things until you come up with the one that feels right.
3. Find a New Purpose in Life
This, too, may overlap with grieving. Your previous purpose in life was being a caregiver. And you probably didn’t have time for any personal meaningful pursuits.
Now you have to find a new purpose: And not only will this help you move forward, it is likely to lengthen your life. Research has concluded that “having a purpose in life appears to widely buffer against mortality risk across the adult years.”
An example was given here in a July 2014 article entitled - After the 36-Hour Day, When Caregiving Ends. The author, who had requested to remain anonymous, discussed her own journey of grief and talks about finding a new purpose in life.
Among her new activities were facilitating a monthly support group for caregivers of people with dementia. volunteering on a telephone helpline, and beginning to work for the Alzheimer’s Association.
My Personal Experience With Moving Forward
When Ed, my beloved life partner of 30 years passed away, I, too, was stricken with grief, which lasted several years, with periods of intense grief alternating with times when it was less prominent.
I consulted a therapist. I also took advantage of a free online coaching service offered by my local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. I emailed my coach every day for more than two years. These two people were enormously helpful in guiding me through my journey of grief.
But during this period I also took up a new hobby – photography. I found that when I was doing a photo shoot time stood still and my grief was temporarily suspended. It was marvelous therapy and a wonderful respite.
As far as finding a new purpose in life, I eventually became an advocate for Alzheimer’s caregivers. The journal I had kept during Ed’s illness and during my period of grief became the basis for my uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy.
Next I took up public speaking about Alzheimer’s caregiving, making presentations at support groups and professional Alzheimer’s groups. Helping caregivers and caregiving professionals became a passion.
Finally, I started visiting people with dementia at a local memory care facility. “My ladies,’ as I call them, are extremely grateful for my visits, which makes me feel I have a purpose in life.
In conclusion, overcoming your grief and moving on with life will not be easy. Sometimes grief never quite goes away. But it will probably lessen and you’ll learn to live with it.
The time may come when memories of your loved one become comforting, even pleasurable, instead of painful. If you can find new pleasures and new meaning in life, you’ll find your grief decreasing little by little until it is manageable.
Do any of you who’ve lost a loved one have any additional advice on this topic?
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy, and the co-author (with neurologist Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers.
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