It doesn’t sound possible, does it? How do you grieve for someone who is still alive? Grief is a state of emotion that we experience when we suffer a loss, any loss. We can lose a loved one long before their physical being leaves this world. As anyone who has had to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of a parent who has suffered a stroke, Alzheimer’s or any other terminal disease, will tell you; The grief is real even while their parent was still alive.
When the person you once knew, the one took care of you and who was always vibrant, lively and so full of life is suffering a debilitating disease or condition or has been in an accident is not longer able to fill that role in your life; you can experience that loss as grief. If your loved one has challenges accomplishing even the simplest of tasks like feeding themselves, going to the bathroom or other mobility restrictions it is difficult to see them struggle. It is a challenge to adapt to lost cognitive awareness or memory loss especially if they have trouble remembering and identifying you or other relatives and friends. The parent/child role reverses when they are no longer safe when left alone or become unable to take care of themselves. There may be an immense sense of grief when any insightful conversations or shared history that you once had is lost.
This is a very similar state to the grief that would be felt if your loved one had actually passed away. The common experience of transitioning through the stages of grief is true for both you and your parent. Remember that these stages may also be felt by the person who has been affected if they are cognitively aware.
Here are the common stages:
1. Shock. You may find yourself numb or in disbelief. This stage can help protect you from being overwhelmed all at once.
2. Denial. You find yourself denying the situation or you may rationalise that your loved one will just get better magically and suddenly.
3. Pain & Guilt. This stage hurts emotionally in ways you may not have experienced before and can feel almost unbearable. You may be questioning why you didn’t ensure that they ate right or had taken them to the doctor more, why you didn’t visit more often or any host of other reasons. At times you will find yourself wishing it could be over – which can then boomerang and lead to you experiencing more guilt. It is important that you face this stage and not find escapes through drugs, alcohol or avoidance.
4. Anger & Bargaining. Why him/her? If only I had… Anger can be one of the most damaging emotions to your relationship with your parent or loved one or those around you. Avoid making statements that begin with If you had only… It’s all your fault that… Even if something could have been done to help prevent or lessen the situation it is important to focus on the present and not dwell on what could have been done.
5. Depression & Loneliness. In this stage, you begin to see the true magnitude of what has happened. Retreating into yourself in the form of avoiding seeing your loved one or others is common. It is important to allow yourself some space while at the same time realising that your loved one and those around you are often also experiencing stages of grief.
6. Testing. You have now grasped the magnitude of what has happened and begin looking for solutions. This stage can begin feeling manageable and your outlook on the future becomes a little brighter. You are able to offer more support to your loved which can be invaluable.
7. Acceptance. You are now able to accept what has happened and begin to heal from the loss of the person you once knew.
The stages are not always clear and not always orderly…grieving is a messy business. What you want to do is be patient with yourself and your loved ones during this difficult time. Reach out for help when you need it. Stonebridge can offer some support through this difficult time through our home care services, patient advocates who can provide support and crucial information on how best to navigate the healthcare system, helping your family find the solutions that are right for you.