May 31, 2012

A Time To Grieve

The people we cared for and loved will be with us forever.

By Tom and Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

Although this is the last thing most caregivers want to face, it is important to try to prepare for the final letting go; that moment when the person we care for will leave us forever.

There is no real way to completely prepare for this eventuality. Even though we know that this is the final destination of the long and winding road of dementia care, it is impossible to know how we will feel, how we will act when that final moment of letting go happens to us.

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Even though we can’t predict our emotional state at the moment of passing, we can make some practical plans that will help us when the moment comes.

We would suggest making a list of people to call with their phone numbers listed. This list should be prioritized: Who is the person you most need to be with you in these final moments? This person or people should be at the top of your list. (We are not talking about emergency phone numbers, doctors’ phone numbers, hospice and funeral home numbers. These are all important contacts that should also be with you.)

What we are suggesting is creating in advance a list of people who will serve as your emotional support team. As you learned to do while you were a caregiver, don’t be too shy or too proud to ask these people for their help. Give them specific things to do for you. Remember, these people are your support team. They want to help you. You have to let them.

Grieving is a very personal experience; we all deal with it in our own way. Some days, it is all we can do to just get out of bed, brush our teeth and put one foot in front of the other. Some days, we can’t even get out of bed at all.

We do have one suggestion that has been very helpful to us in times of sorrow: Use the arts to express your grief: Writing, painting, playing music, dancing, singing, anything creative that can focus your mind and gives you an emotional outlet is so very helpful during the long months and even years of mourning.

Some people may feel that this approach would not be helpful to them. For those of us who feel this way, we would suggest going to see performances, listening to music, finding those books that speak to you. Bobby Kennedy said that reading poetry was a tremendous help to him as he mourned the tragic loss of his brother, President John Kennedy.

Grief is a long and winding road, with very few guide posts to show us the way to peace and understanding. While there will never be an end to grief, we can learn to live with it. Just as we learn to live with physical pain, we can find coping mechanisms and strategies to help us through this dark and lonely time. We have to remember, though, to give ourselves the time and the space we need to mourn. We have to be patient with ourselves.

The Victorians understood the importance of allowing people the time and the space to grieve properly. In those times, people wore black clothes or wore black arm bands for a year after the death of someone close to them. This type of dress was a sign to other people that this person was in mourning and needed to be treated with respect and understanding.

Today, we have no outward sign to the world that we are in grief. Often, the best intentioned and well meaning people want us to “snap out it”, “don’t be depressed,” “just get over it.”

We need to acknowledge our feelings of sadness and loss. We need to let these feeling be, we need to feel them, and we need to walk through our days of mourning without guilt, without despair. Grieving is natural and so human.

It is very painful and because of this pain, we often feel that emotion known as fight or flight; we want to deny or fight these waves of grief, or we just want to run away, to escape from these terrible feelings. But, we cannot run away from ourselves, or run away from our own sadness. We have to acknowledge our grief, ask for specific help and lean on our friends and our faith.

At some point, it will be the right time to try and move away from the all consuming grief, to let it go, let it be. We will never forget the person we cared for, but we can learn how to live again without them. They will go with us to our new life.

The people we cared for and loved will be with us forever.

Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori Gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. Tom is a gerontologist and has specialized in creating and researching dementia specific training programs. Karen Brenner is a Montessori educator and has specialized in working with children who are deaf or communication disordered. They have been published in magazines and journals both in the US and internationally. Learn more about Tom and Karen at Brenner Pathways

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