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Posted: October 26, 2008

Spousal Caregiving

The Process of Grieving: What Every Griever Should Know

Bill Andrew

 As readers of this column know, I lost my beloved wife of 57 years, Carol, to Alzheimer’s disease this past June.  As her surviving spouse, I am now on a new journey often called the "bereavement period." 

To help me to facilitate my grieving and mourning process, I have been attending a grief support group sponsored by a local hospice.  I have also spent a lot of time on the Internet looking for positive support materials that would help me, and others, deal with the negative results of this grieving and mourning. 

I recently came across an article entitled 10 Things People Should Know About Grief from which this column is derived.  While some of what follows applies directly to the surviving party (the so-called griever), much also applies to friends and family.  If you are a griever, then consider what follows as suggestions to help you to cope with your loss.  If you are friends and family of the griever, then consider the following as you relate to the griever. 

  • Grief is often considered the last "living connection" to the loved one who has died.  When you expect someone to "get over" their grief and resume their "normal" life, remember that you are expecting them to leave their loved one behind and move on.  Think about it in terms of your own personal loved ones -- think about it in terms of losing someone that you can not imagine living without.  People who are grieving can not move on just because others want them to -- they move on when they are ready and able to do so -- and to some degree, they will always grieve their loss.
  • Grief is often self-perceived by the griever as that last "living connection" to a loved one.  Trying to escape that self-perception often puts the griever between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  While the griever wants to move beyond the pain and reality of their loss, they may need weeks, months, or even years to release the "living connection" to their loved one.  They then have to find a new place in their life for the loved one who has died.  Those who have loved and lost can not simply discard their loss one day and move on to the next day.  They must find a place for it in their lives that allows them to find hope and healing.
  • Grievers need to openly talk about their loss and their grief as a therapeutic way to ultimately accept and adjust to the reality of their loss in order to make sense of that loss and to begin to heal from it.  In order to do this, the griever needs to repeat their story over and over as they analyze their loss while they embark upon this new journey as a griever.
  • Loss and grief do not discriminate; it can and does happen to everyone at some point in his or her lifetime.  Instead of hiding from grief because it makes you uncomfortable, it is often better to be open about it.  Family and friends can help by sharing with the griever which will help them to cope better.  The understanding and insight that you will gain as family and friends will help you to better understand loss and grief when it personally touches you one day in the future.
  • Grievers often need time to grieve alone.  This is not a negative reflection on family and friends but a simple truth.  You should offer your support -- when someone needs to be alone with their sadness, offer to be there when needed.  Then let them grieve alone.
  • Grief belongs to the griever.  It is theirs and theirs alone -- they own it.  Family and friends need to understand that, respect that, and not judge.  It is often better for family and friends to allow the griever to slowly move forward -- being supportive is being all you can be at this time.
  • Losing a loved one can often make the griever angry at God and the world.  Remember that their anger is not directed at you personally although you may often feel that way.  Try to be understanding and not take it personally.
  • Grievers will gradually learn to cope with and accept their loss -- although that may never be 100% acceptable to them.  A loved one has died and is never coming back.  Accept the fact that they will never get over it -- but will slowly accept it and learn to cope with it.
  • Death changes lives forever.  While grievers may adapt, their lives will never be the same.  Don't be surprised by this -- instead, learn to adapt with them.
  • Nothing is absolute in the grieving and healing process -- there will be setbacks.  Family and friends often think that the griever's grief should be "over" long before that person is even able to truly begin to move forward.  Relationships with family and friends can be severely tested at a time when understanding and closeness is needed the most.  Don't give up on those who need your support during this time of need -- they may do the same for you sometime in the future. 

Grieving for a loved one can be either a very positive or a very negative experience.  The griever's ability to help themselves to heal can also be a very positive or a very negative experience.  By taking a positive approach, as indicated in the above suggestions, the griever will have both a positive grieving and healing experience.  This positive process of grieving will help the griever move toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in their life. 

Please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com with your comments and/or reactions.  I will include them in a future column with your permission.  Please provide your full name and address.  In the column, I will only use your first name and the initial of your last name as well as your city and state.  Thank you. 

WORDS TO CARE BY . . . 

"Weeping bitterly, mourning fully,

pay your tribute of sorrow as (she) deserves;

then compose yourself after your grief,

for grief can bring on an extremity

and heartache (to) destroy one's health."

 Sirach 38: 17-19 (NAB)


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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