Happy 2013 to everyone! The saying goes that the new year brings new beginnings and until this year, I didn’t really pay much attention to that. I know I wrote in my last column that I would provide you with some great insight into home safety this month. But since that time, I have become a true follower of the “new year, new beginnings” conga line.
So I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts to help carry us all into the new year. I do apologize and hope you will bear with me if some of this seems to be a bit self-serving. My hope is that my journey into a “new year, new beginnings” will help some of you as well.
In my career choice of working with seniors and their families, losing a beloved family member is part of nature’s course. The fact that it is part of life does not make it any easier for those who are left behind to deal with the emotions and more. Helping families prepare for the loss of a loved one and then helping them (and staff) cope afterwards is something I’ve always been able to handle with care and compassion.
So what happens when you suddenly join the ranks of all those you have counseled through their loss? The rules of the game change. You can now speak with feelings that weren’t present before.
When a loved one dies, it doesn’t matter whether it was from a long illness or happened suddenly, the pain and sense of loss is still great. Your emotions probably will run the full gamut from anger to sadness to uncontrollable tears to profound grief and more. All those emotions are normal responses to a significant loss.
We all cope with loss and grief differently – there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Many people may appear OK in public but prefer to let their emotions out in private. Others try to be strong in order to protect family members and friends. Many times it is better to show your true feelings and it could help you and the others around you.
The coping process takes time – there is no “normal” time frame for grieving. It’s not like you wake up one morning and the calendar says grieving time is over. When you have a major loss in your life, the pain and heartache could last for years or even a lifetime.
Keep in mind that almost anything you experience during the grieving process is normal – including the feeling that you’re going crazy or in a bad dream.
You may feel shock, disbelief, numbness, have trouble believing that the loss really happened or even denial. Overwhelming sadness is the most common feeling of all.
Others may experience various guilt feelings – “I should have visited more often,” “I should have been able to do something to prevent it.” If it was a particularly long or difficult illness, you may even experience relief after the fact. Anger, fear, frustration are also common when you lose someone close to you.
Grief also can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, compromised immune system, weight loss or gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.
Although many people tend to turn their emotions and feelings inward during the grieving process, it is important to have the support of others. Even if you don’t normally talk about your feelings, it can be very therapeutic to express them at this time.
Sharing can help make the burden of grief easier to cope with. Turn to your other family members, your friends, your faith. Consider participating in a support group or talking with a therapist or grief counselor.
At some point you will need to face your feelings. In order to heal, there has to be an acknowledgement of the loss and the pain. Avoiding the reality of what happened could lead to physical, medical and emotional complications. If you have a creative streak, use that talent to express your feelings whether it be writing in a journal, making a scrapbook or photo montage, painting, etc. Stand up for yourself with regard to your feelings.
Don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling and don’t tell yourself that you should feel one way or another. Feelings have a mind of their own and they serve a purpose during the grieving process. As time goes on, you should prepare for “triggers” that could bring back the feeling of loss and the pain such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.
On a personal note ...
This has been a difficult column to write, but it also has been very therapeutic for me. I lost my dad three weeks ago very unexpectedly and I was unable to be there when he died. My feelings have run the full gamut. As the oldest child, I felt responsible for my mom even though I have siblings nearby. As a mother, I felt responsible for my grown daughters and their children, who were all very close to their grandpa.
Last week would have been his 81st birthday and I was once again overcome with all the feelings that I had at his passing.
My dad and I were close. He was a journalist and he was responsible for my interest in writing. This is my way of honoring him and his memory.
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One day at a time
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You mean there’s a test for that?
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Information tidbits for seniors
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A few of my favorite things …
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Alzheimer’s: The heartbreaking disease
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For seniors, a little bit of this and that
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What? me scammed? Never!
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How to speak ‘dementia’ with your loved one
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Questions, answers, suggestions and Alzheimer’s
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I need a vacation, but who will care for Mom?
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Just Imagine: A Future Without Alzheimer’s
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Letting go of the car keys: Part 2
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Letting go of the car keys: Part 1
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The balancing act of being a family caregiver
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