Recovering from grief…or do we?

I’ve been away from posting for a long time. I take this as a positive sign of my recovery from grieving. But, do we ever fully recover?

Sure, I know grief is personal and subjective and everyone handles it differently; there is no right or wrong way. Everyone has their own timetable and needs to find their new normal.

But now and then those triggers pop up. Just when you think you have things under control – BOOM! – you see or read something that sets you back. This has happened to me a couple of times post-recovery. I try to avoid articles on dementia and Alzheimer’s because an uneasiness comes over me but at the same time, they draw me in; they’re so compelling. So, I’ll scan over them. Some are upsetting to me because I find myself second-guessing my care, reflecting on “should I have done this or that”, “why was I impatient at times….she couldn’t help it”, and the like.

Such an article, and a beautiful one, written by Dan Gasby set off that trigger recently. He is the husband and care partner to supermodel, restaurateur, magazine publisher, celebrity chef, and nationally known lifestyle expert  B. Smith, who has younger-onset Alzheimer’s,

The loss of my mother is still relatively new. In February it will be four years. I was depressed for the first 2 1/2 of those years during which I had a daughter and a son get married and welcomed two beautiful grandsons into our family; I now have a third due in a couple of months. Most days are good. When I think of my mother now I think of happy and fun times. I’m not bogged down by those deepest feelings of loss. That is a sign of recovery. I believe I have found my new normal.

Still, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her or miss her.


Three years and coping

It seems a little surreal and hard to believe that today marks three years since mom’s been gone; seems just like yesterday and an eternity at the same time. I received sweet texts this morning from my daughter-in-law and friend, and phone calls from my daughters. I’ll visit mom later today and go to minyan tonight even though I went last week for her yahrzeit, the anniversary of the day of death in the Jewish calendar.

I went back into my email correspondence with Ted, trying to find something. I often referred to Ted as “T.” in my writing, and came across L’s exquisite eulogy that so embodied the essence of mom.

During the heavy grieving period we all cope differently. For me, it was wearing mom’s clothes and using her nail polish on my toes so when I looked down at my feet it was like looking at hers. And today, I’m wearing one of her sweaters and a pair of sandals that I bought with her.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of mom or tell her how much I love her. As Ted so poignantly and elegantly told me as only he could, “nothing dies that is remembered.”

In that case, mom is very much alive in me … and always will be.

Stumbling and Recovery

Something very strange happened to me last month. Or maybe it’s not so strange. For all the positive steps moving forward in grieving the loss of a loved one, you can stumble. And that happened to me last month.

I still get the shakes when I see the word “Alzheimer’s” in a heading or within text. Still, I read a review of “Still Alice” in The New York Times last month. But it was the readers’ comments that hit me hard.

As I read some of them, I started crying. They brought me back to my care-giving experiences. Not only did I share many of the readers’ experiences but it caused me, again, to question my care: Did I do everything I could? I knew mom had dementia but did my denial of Alzheimer’s hamper my care-giving? Should I have quit my job to be with her all the time? I still see her big smile and eyes light up when I would stop by for breakfast on my way to work. Could I or should I have done things differently? My friends and brother will give an emphatic “No!”

I think care-givers always have these doubts, especially after losing their loved one. But these comments hit such a nerve in me and set a trigger off so much so that I contacted my local Alzheimer’s Association to look into a support group. And as I’m on the phone with the rep, I just started bawling. My emotions were just so raw – something not experienced for a long time as I was doing so well.

Well, after calling the group’s facilitator and finding out she was no longer there, I guess I got over “it” because I chose not to follow through and lost interest. I’m still thinking of contacting them to find a group. In the grieving process one thing I have found, at least for me, is the need to talk. I’m sure it’s the same for most.

PS I have not yet seen the film … but I will.

PSS Gratefully and thankfully my daugher is fine. Her brain lesion is gone, and one month after her second MRI in December, she went on to run the Houston Marathon and a PR – 4:20:07!

Taking emotional inventory

I attended my first grief support group session last night. I think it’s going to be a good thing.

Although it was just two of us, we both had a lot to unload and cry about. It was about a seven tissue session for me.

Diagram of a Grief knot

Diagram of a Grief knot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other person suddenly lost her mother in October while caring for her husband who died Feb. 29 in hospice. She probably hasn’t even had time to grieve for her mother.

I grieve for mine everyday — at my desk at work, in the car, lying in bed, while shopping for a dress for my daughter’s wedding. It doesn’t matter where I am. Thoughts and images of my mother just pop up. I know she would feel absolutely awful knowing what the effect of her death has had on me. She would never want me to be so unhappy.

But I am.

I don’t seem to care about anything that I had an interest in before. I have an attitude of indifference. It’s hard for me to make decisions.

The grief counselor assured me that this is normal. The average recovery time for a significant loss is one to two years. And, it’s possible to grieve actively for up to five years without becoming pathological.

Our first exercise is to identify from a list grief symptoms we are currently experiencing. Mine are:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of logical thought
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty focusing on details
  • Stuck in “if only” thinking
  • Think about your loved one or the loss by constantly going over the same thoughts repeatedly
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Cry unexpectedly and at times over seemingly insignificant issues
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy doing
  • Desire to talk frequently of your loss
  • Feelings of guilt over things done or said or things not done or said

We were told there are four activities for grief: Think, Talk, Write and Cry.

Our first assignment is to start a diary or journal from a list of suggested topics. I haven’t decided my topic yet.

Processing it all

Friday, February 3

There’s so much to say but I just haven’t had the energy to pound it out on the keyboard.

I have had the good fortune to work bedside this week by my mom. As I look over, she’s sleeping peacefully and comfortably. While it’s been difficult to see her decline, I will cherish this time.

During the week she’s been at different levels of awareness. For instance, this morning as I bent down to kiss her good morning and tell her I was back and I loved her, she opened her eyes, was able to track me and give me some kind of nod of recognition and a small smile. I fed her about five ice chips and watched her as it slowly dissolved in her mouth and she slowly drifted off to sleep.

She slept most of the day – a combo of her current condition and being on a pain med to make her more comfortable. It’s not that she’s in any pain, but is exhibiting what they call “terminal restlessness,” where she will squirm in her bed and raise and lower her arms. The pamphlet says this is due to lack of oxygen in her blood.

This time I’ve been able to spend with her has given me not only precious remaining time with her but also the ability to process it all and added time to say good-bye. I know the processing has worked because I’m able to contain my crying to a degree. So why am I crying now as I type this?