We tend to categorize loss.
The loss of a child is the pinnacle of grief. That’s understandable. The loss of a parent is also devastating. However, it wasn’t until my mother received her dementia diagnosis that I genuinely understood that loss doesn’t always involve finality.
Dementia isn’t final, but as it continues its destructive trek through the brain, it also beats a path of mourning through the hearts of caregivers.
Mourning is typically associated with death, but a caregiver’s perception of the process is more closely related to the primary definition of the word “mourn,” which is “to feel or express grief or sorrow.”
The mourning caregiver
Our mourning process begins soon after a dementia diagnosis. Grief arises as we begin to process the facts that surround the cognitive disorder. Our loved one is still alive, but their loss is prevalent, as is ours.
Our days continue in the usual fashion. We don’t notice much change in our loved one’s demeanor. We continue to communicate and respond to one another as we always have. However, as loss gains momentum, caregivers find themselves falling deeper into the mourning process.
We are encouraged to express grief when a loved one dies. Avoiding the expression of grief keeps us from moving forward. Caregivers are stuck in the middle of the process. We face a challenge to communicate our grief or mourn the loss associated with a person who is still with us.
Caregivers don’t mourn the loss of the loved one — at least not in the strictest sense. We lament the loss of shared experiences, dissolved memories, and a reciprocal relationship in which parents deliver comforting advice, because unlike us, they’ve already been there and done that. We mourn the everyday things that tie us together as parents and children, husbands and wives.
Grappling with loss
Caregivers encounter loss every day, but we can’t set up residence there. We must find a balance between expressing our grief and moving forward with provisional care. The first step in the mourning process is to recognize loss. Acknowledge how you feel about the process; don’t pretend that it doesn’t stink to high heaven.
Following are some of my suggestions to help you navigate the mourning process:
- Accept that sadness is a part of life. However, if it deepens to the point of depression, seek help. Learn to recognize the symptoms of depression, which include an inability to problem-solve and make plans and decisions, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, inability to control negative thoughts, and loss of energy.
- Express grief by talking about it with a close friend or confidant. If you’re a person of faith, seek guidance from your pastor.
- Continue to engage with your loved one on the level at which they are capable. Embrace the knowledge that the loss isn’t yet permanent. You still have an opportunity to build and cultivate a new relationship.
- Do your best to accept your new normal and remember that love never fails.
- Find a support group in your local area, or visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website to search for resources.
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s Disease.
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