Caregiving is physically demanding, there's no doubt about that. However, caregivers also experience emotional stress, which can be extremely draining. Whether you're caring for a loved one, or you are a full-time caregiver in your community, you will experience loss at some point.
Grief is a normal emotion, in which we all face. It isn't easy to lose someone close to you, but there are healthy coping strategies. It can be hard to adjust without that individual in which you were caring for. Although a loss can create the highest level of grief, many also experience anticipatory grief.
For those that care for a loved one with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, it can be very hard to watch that individual's condition worsen over time. While you are trying to manage and cope with your grief, you may also be experiencing financial or relationship difficulties. As someone that gives so much, you need to also care for yourself.
What Exactly Is Grief?
As mentioned, grief is a natural emotion, one that makes us human. It is of course an emotion that is uncomfortable and overwhelming, which can last for an extended period of time. We try to make sense of our surroundings, as we grieve a profound loss.
The level of grief that someone experiences is unique to them and their circumstances. There are many factors that can affect the ways in which we respond to a loss. Religion, our belief system, the relationship itself, and the type of loss; can all play a role. Due to these unique circumstances, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. This is an individual process, which is far from black and white.
Common Symptoms of Grief
You may be thinking to yourself, am I experiencing a normal level of grief? The truth is, losing someone close to you can affect all aspects of your being. You may need to heal socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Although everyone differs, here are someone common symptoms that are associated with the grieving process:
1.Physical: It is not uncommon to experience a wide range pf physical symptoms. Crying is of course one of the most common ways to express our levels of sadness. You may also feel weak, with very little energy. Due to these symptoms, you could also develop a wide range of other related effects; stomach pain, self-destructive behaviour (drinking), loss of sleep, aches and pains, headaches, eating too little or too much, and many more potential symptoms.
2.Emotional: You will more than likely feel the largest blow to your emotional well-being. This can be hard to control, especially as you learn to adjust. Some of the most common emotional symptoms include; depression, anger, guilt, confusion, worry, anxiety, and an overall lack of control.
3.Social: It can be tough to adjust socially, especially when people do not understand the hurt you're feeling inside. When someone experiences a loss, they can feel alone and isolated. Some begin to detach themselves from others, while others do not want to be left alone. For some, they become angry at other family members, because they are moving on with their lives.
4.Spiritual: Loss can cause people to question their faith, which can lead them to feelings of confusion and frustration. As humans, we begin searching for the meaning of life. It is hard to understand death, which can cause people to become angry. Some detach from their faith, while others grow closer, as they search for solace.
Possible Stages of Grief
You may not experience the same stages of grief as others, even those that are within your family. If you were the primary caregiver, you may take the loss of your loved one harder than everyone else. Unfortunately, there is no set map for grief. The direction you take highly depends on your situation.
The following stages are experienced by most individuals that experience loss. Remember, you may not experience these stages in the exact order listed here. You may feel anger first, but skip directly to acceptance. You may also re-visit some of these stages, during memorable times of the year (on anniversaries, birthdays, or any other special day).
1. Shock: It is normal to deny reality, especially when it is something as troubling as a loss. It is a coping mechanism, which helps us to numb the pain. Denial allows us to not feel the full extent of our emotions. This is the first stage that many experience, as they struggle to accept the facts. A new reality emerges, which can be hard to swallow.
2. Anger: You may express your feelings through anger, as you try and make sense of your loss. You could become angry at yourself, at co-workers, God, or life in general. This anger typically stems from feelings of helplessness.
3. Bargaining: Many start to think, 'what if I did this differently...' They start to think about what could have been. This can be a tough stage to get through, as you begin to realize that this experience is real.
4. Depression: Once you come to terms with reality, you may experience a wave of sadness. Emotions can become overwhelming, as you begin to feel lonely and lost. Depression is often paired with feelings of regret, anxiety, and fear.
5.Acceptance: This stage allows you to adjust more comfortably, as you begin to move on. You will experience a sense of healing and hope. This does not mean that you need to forget about your loved one or the individual you cared for. In fact, it's beneficial to reflect on the good moments you had together. Think about the positive aspects of their life, not the end of their life.
Getting Through the First Year
Experts say on average, we grieve for around a year. This will be less for some, or longer for others. Throughout the first year, you will more than likely experience some or all of the stages mentioned above. Majority of people find that their grief becomes less intense after the first year.
As there will be some special days that make it painful, you can plan ahead. If you have recently lost your father, than make sure you're with supportive individuals on his birthday, or on Father's Day. You will want to surround yourself with people who respect your grieving process. Make sure you accept the love and support of your friends and family members.
If you are lacking support from your family, then you can join a bereavement support group. It can be enlightening to hear other stories, allowing you to see that you're not alone. There is no 'normal' time period to stop grieving. Time will heal your emotional wounds, which will allow you to heal physically, socially, and spiritually. Reflect on the good memories, as you celebrate your loved one's life.
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When an ill person brings up subjects that make you feel uncomfortable, it's natural to want to squelch the discussion or rapidly change the subject. However, it's very important to listen unselfishly and avoid responding with, for example: "Let's not get into that right now. Can't we discuss something more pleasant?" or "Do you really think it's helpful to dwell on this topic?"
Whether the patient asks a spiritual or theological question that catches you off guard or she wants to know about the side effects of a medication, it helps to learn how to be noncommittal without seeming evasive. You don't want her to think that you don't care or that you're hiding something, and you definitely don't want to offer misinformation that might do more harm than good.
Even for people who weren't very spiritual or religious throughout most of their lives, it's natural to experience spiritual anxiety during a serious illness. And it's also natural for this anxiety to lead to questions that caregivers might find difficult or even overwhelming. If your loved one asks, for instance, 'What's next? Will prayer help? Why did God let this happen to me?' it's best to call in a qualified cleric.
Just as most of us are not comfortable with chronic illness, we are also not comfortable with crying. When tears appear, we tend to whip out a tissue and murmur something along the lines of, "It's okay. Don't cry." From now on, continue to pass the tissue when your ill loved one starts to tear up, but don't pressure him to stop sobbing. Tears are a natural emotional release for emotions ranging from anger to sadness to fear, and can be very therapeutic.
When your loved one is uncomfortable, upset, or worried, you might be tempted to utter platitudes like, "Everything will be okay," "I know how you feel," "God has given you a long life," or "It's God's will." While we hope that these phrases will be a quick fix to problems we'd rather not deal with, the truth is that they're trite and meaningless. What's more, sugarcoating reality doesn't fool most people, and it certainly doesn't spark positive change.
Anger is a natural human emotion, and it's important to recognize that chronically ill people have a lot to potentially feel upset about. Understandably, many patients are angry that they are so sick. Plus, their pain and energy levels might make them less patient or less able to handle stressful situations. Therefore, it's not unusual for caregivers to be on the receiving end when their loved one's fuse blows for any reason.
Understanding how and why an illness is getting worse and more painful is intellectual. But experiencing it is a very visceral and emotional thing. The patient needs for you to connect with him on a heart-to-heart, gut-to-gut level, not just a mental one.
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