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.

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.

Grieving and Timetables

There is no set timetable for grieving the loss of a loved one. Some are able to compartmentalize better than others and able to “move on” at a quicker pace.

I’m not sure where I fit. Hard to believe yesterday marked two weeks since mom’s funeral. I definitely feel a voided space out there. I look at her picture and it is still hard to wrap my brain around it.

I spoke with Dr. K a couple of days ago to try to get a grasp about what just happened.

Mom was definitely in a free-fall decline for a good two months probably longer. There was definitely something going on cognitively and physically. I read the notes I kept and the notes recorded by her aides/companions. But I didn’t think it would end in death, at least not as fast as it did. The point is, dementing disorders shorten life.

Mom’s blood pressure issues accelerated the problem. And in the midst of all this, she was not eating as well and didn’t have much in reserves. Put it all together, these patients lose their drive to survive, says Dr. K; they have no sense of purpose of reason to be.

This is really hard for me to swallow and to accept but I did see a voided look in mom’s eyes and changes in her body language. And of course I’m now second-guessing – could I have been more proactive in addressing  these new behaviors? Did I become complacent to her condition? And yes, coming back to her fall in September – was that the start of her decline? But I did. I called Dr. K, I spoke to her twice during the week that mom went into the hospital and mom even saw her earlier that week.

Still, I can’t help but think I could’ve done more.