Tonight I have sat lost in thought, remembering many dear friends who are gone now, including my dad who died last March of Alzheimer’s disease complications. Dementia has taken so many people from me and I’ve recently wondered how one person can possibly deal with all the loss and grief over and over.
My first experience as a nurse’s aide placed me on a life-long path I have continued to follow ever since because I truly believe I was meant to serve and be taught by older adult clients; and I have worked in nursing home, assisted living, retirement, home health, and adult day care settings for over 30 years. Being a caregiver is not easy, nor is it always pleasant; in fact stitches, Tetanus shot, and Hepatitis C come quickly to mind, along with 16 hour shifts, working every holiday and weekend, and earning little more than minimum wage. But the conversations of hope and forgiveness with Peter, a German-Jew who survived two WWII death marches, Elsie who claimed me as her long-lost cousin and did anything I asked of her (eat, shower, give me a hug) with unconditional love, and Cowboy, the old guy with worn hat and boots, who never lived outside an institution, but was always pleasant as he gave the only thing he had to give—big smiles. And the list goes on and on. I am in awe when I think of countless people I have met through the years and how their wisdom, patience, humility, kindness, gratitude, forgiveness, and unconditional love have blessed me. I am a better person for knowing each one and feel indebted to them for sharing their personal insights, dreams, and feelings with me.
Grief is a natural response to loss and is often expressed in the emotions we feel including denial, shock, guilt, fear, bargaining, sadness, anger, insecurity, depression, pain, and acceptance. Grief is personal, so there is no right or wrong way to grieve or a certain time to “get over it”. Coping with grief in healthy ways such as exercise or hobbies may help a person heal and move forward with life. Support may come from family and friends; religious rituals such as prayer, meditation, going to church; and/or joining a group or talking with a counselor. It’s important to look after personal physical and mental health, to plan ahead for grief “triggers”, face feelings and express them honestly, and to allow people to help.
Anticipatory grief is common among spouse and family (and formal) caregivers of individuals with dementia because we grieve the impending loss; normal cognitive functioning drastically declines long before the physical death.
Complicated grief is not normal. It is a long-lasting intense yearning for the deceased which takes over a person’s life creating poor psychological and physical health. It is important to seek professional assistance and each member of the Aspen staff is concerned for the well-being of clients and their families. If you are suffering or know someone who is suffering, please let us help.
Unresolved grief may be the result of unfinished business with the deceased; or life events such as loss of job, divorce, violent death. Healing requires treatment so again, Aspen staff is here to help.
There is not one day that goes by at Aspen Activity Center that we don’t remember a client’s favorite story, joke, song, or food because we know and love each friend well and miss and grieve for them when they leave us. The only way I know to personally cope with grief is to put my whole self into caring for and enjoying the clients who are still with us.
For more information on Grieving visit http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm
~Tamara Nixon BS, CHES