The Loss Of A Caregiver Because Of Death, Part 2
It’s devastating to lose your spouse but what happens when your spouse is also your primary caregiver? The Rollin’ RNs started this discussion in Part 1 The Loss of a Caregiver. (Click here to read)
In this article, we discuss the aftermath of grief. The “what to do now” events. These suggestions may not work for everyone but they are some of the things I’ve done. Some have worked well for me, others, not so much. I don’t feel grief is ever completely resolved.
In review, the five stages of grief and loss are:
1. Denial and isolation
People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them. Remember, I had one more stage and it was being completely extremely overwhelmed with life. This has been an extremely difficult story and I have felt completely overwhelmed by events but I hope this will touch at least one person in dealing with their own grief. I’ve tried many different tactics and some have succeeded while others fell flat and left me in tears. So, I’m sharing a few that have worked in assisting me in “rollin” forward.
My most recent revelation came this past week. During my husband’s years of dealing with cancer, I allowed myself to omit doctor physicals. I know I am in a wheelchair and certain yearly visits should be on the calendar but I was nervous. I couldn’t allow any more illness to find it’s way to my already full plate, so I avoided checkups. But this past week, I got all checkups done, physical and mammogram, check. By doing that I found it alleviated some of the grief I was experiencing. It’s a small thing but psychologically it was HUGE. I was finally taking care of ME!
Investigating other ideas to help cope with grief, I had to remind myself that others were coping with grief just as I was with the loss of my husband including our sons, my mother-in-law, my husband’s siblings, and his friends. Believe it or not, it wasn’t just about me yet I felt very alone. Actually, I asked many of my new widow friends for ideas to assist in coping. But the one thing I realized was there was no set of rules in grieving. Everyone was different.
"Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it will only prolong the natural process of healing." Family and friends have helped me tremendously in dealing with my emotions. I found talking with my family, the ones who knew my husband, aided me in moving forward.
My mother-in-law, Frank’s mom, spends every Sunday with me during late lunch, early dinner. We laugh, we cry, and we talk about my husband’s life. We joke that the other is the grief counselor. This may not work for everyone but it’s working for us, so far. I have found that many prefer to not mention my husband’s name, in fear it will set off tears. It may, but my husband was alive, he was very important in my life, he was a father, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, and a hospital administrator. He lived and I enjoy talking about him. He had a very important job in life and a loved one should NEVER be forgotten. Talk about a loved one who has passed. Assist the survivor in compassion that their loved one was extremely special.
Other ideas to assist with the loss of your caregiver:
1. If you join a support group, be sure you are ready. Support groups can be helpful but they can also be exhausting. Each group and those individuals within the group are working through the different stages of grief too.
2. Invest in a “slow cooker.” After a death, preparing a meal is way, way down the list of things to do. Initially, my diet “sucked.” There was no other word to describe my eating habits following my husband’s death. But the very last thing I wanted to do was plan a meal, prepare it alone, and eat it by myself. If you are capable of doing so, kudos to you, but I wasn’t. I was a widow, who was also an “empty-nester.” My meals consisted of me with my two pups. But, as a nurse, I also knew I wasn’t helping my spinal-cord-injured-body by eating as I was. I had to get some protein in to assist with keeping my body healthy, hence the slow-cooker. I found by doing so, the smells filled my home deliciously and by dinner-time, I was hungry and my diet improved.
3. Volunteer to help others. This one is two-fold. Volunteering puts you in the company of others and it’s helpful. You feel good that you are being helpful to someone in need.
4. Revisit the past texts on the phones. My husband never left voice mails but he did text. Rereading his texts, he was constantly asking me what meds to take for his headache or nausea. I would “band-aid” his symptoms as a good wife and a nurse. But the texts with his symptoms went back to 2016. By revisiting his texts on my phone, I was reminded of how ill he had really been but also reminded of the husband and father he was before the cancer entered into his/our lives.
5. Take out old photos and relive the memories. This suggestion is difficult but cathartic. My sweetie was diagnosed with melanoma for 11 years but it was the last couple of weeks that he was extremely ill. So, I look at the memories of family times and forget the last few weeks of his life. I only remember the good moments and I try to forget the evil cancer that took him from us. I always felt my husband was Superman and only Kryptonite would be his downfall. His picture is sitting on my dresser and I talk to him each morning and each evening. This may not work for everyone but it works for me now, as I enter the acceptance stage.
6. Don’t be afraid to share with others your difficult times of the day. My grueling times of the day are early evenings and weekends when family and friends have gone home. Before, my husband and I would make a huge Sunday morning breakfast and read the newspaper together or go to church, depending on his illness. Now Sunday mornings are challenging and my breakfast is only a bowl of cereal. This goes back to the slow cooker suggestion but I don’t have any breakfast recipes yet, so for now, it’s oatmeal for me unless our sons spend the night. They still expect a huge breakfast as they are growing men and that’s a momma’s job to spoil her babies. But by sharing your difficult times of the day, a friend might just pick up the phone and provide a kind and timely phone call.
7. This one is a no-brainer – tackle cleaning out closets with your loved one’s clothes on your own timetable. Some do it quickly and others slowly. I may tackle a drawer of clothes about once every month. There is no timetable as to when this needs to be accomplished, so move at your own pace. Leave them forever, it is entirely up to you. This one is difficult because it’s the finality of your loved one never returning to wear those clothes again. So refuse to allow anyone to dictate to you a timetable for completion.
8. If possible, don’t try to assume the role of caregiver for yourself by yourself. I was blessed to have a younger sister, who stepped up and took over for my husband. My sister is my rock now. She makes me laugh in the dumbest situations, but laughter is healthy, so never feel you are doing a disservice to your deceased loved one by laughing out loud. My family and friends have also stepped up to assist me as needed.
9. Watch the sunset. Sunsets are big and beautiful and they have a way of putting your life into perspective. Sunsets are good for the soul. I also take pics of the full moon in all of it’s glory in hopes my Sweetie is seeing the same moon from Heaven.
10. Grief may never completely be resolved. It will always be a part of you but you must find a way to move forward with it now.
Losing the love of your life is one of the most paralyzing things to get through and I am by no way done with my grief. It can still knock me out of my chair when I least expect it but I swim through the wave knowing each day that I get through is one day closer to being with my sweetie again and that gives me solace.
As other helpful hints occur, we will share with our readers. Until then…
It’s all good so keep on rollin’.
Patty, RNC and Roberta, RN
The Rollin' RNs
The Five Stages of Grief and Loss. Obtained November 4, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/