Baby Boomers are increasingly finding themselves in the role of care giver for aging parents, spouses and sometimes other relatives and friends. While the tasks of this role may vary, depending on the situation, there are some elements in common. One is to understand and to cope with grief.
When a death occurs we expect that we will grieve. We may even be familiar with the stages of grief, which were originally outlined in the pioneering work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Those stages are Shock and Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance. There are some variations of these basic five which since have been added by therapists working with death and dying.
Individuals go through these stages in their own way and time, sometimes returning to a stage they have experienced earlier, sometimes not. As you might guess there are no hard and fast rules to the process.
Last night in the wee small hours of the morning, when I was lying awake (don’t you just hate when that happens? I sure do!) it occurred to me that the thing that makes this even more complicated for care givers is that there are two parallel but separate grief processes going on.
The person who is in declining health or circumstances, feeling ill or exhausted, is losing independence, as well as possibly their home and familiar surroundings and routines. In addition they may have a loss of career or income which adds to their anxiety. They will be grieving these losses, and possibly facing the end of life.
The care giver has their own stresses of providing support and help while juggling the ongoing demands of their own life. Most Baby Boomers are employed or running businesses, maintaining family relationships, sometimes still supporting older children and often helping to care for grandchildren. And personality differences and old relationship issues inevitably get amplified by the stress that both are experiencing.
To complicate things further, the caregiver will at some point begin his or her own grief process. After all you may be facing the loss of someone dear to you. And it is emotionally distressing to see them suffer. Being aware of it helps of course, but often that’s not the case. Caught up in daily demands, you might not realize that grief is playing a part in what is going on.
The care giver may be in denial, or bargaining. She may be feeling angry and not seeing that the source of it may be her grief. Depression may be passed off as a result of all the stress. And the demands of providing care may make it more difficult to get to Acceptance. Of course the folks involved in this are not likely going through the stages at the same time.
Here are some suggestions for those who find themselves in such a situation.
- Carve out a little quiet time. Even 10 minutes helps. Unplug from all your electronic devices including cell phone and the computer. Sit in a comfortable place, take 5 deep breaths and relax your body. Just sit and soak up the silence.
- Listen to your thoughts and dreams. Take 20 minutes in the morning to do some unedited speed writing in your journal.
- At the end of the day write a list of what you are grateful for and don’t forget to include some appreciation of yourself.
- Do a little reading about grief and see if you can identify where you are in the process.
- Find a listening ear and share your feelings and express your needs if you are aware of them.
- Arrange for respite care for the person you are providing care for. There are lots of options for this depending on the situation. It may entail asking other relatives or friends to fill in for you so that you can get a break. Or if there are medical concerns the doctor’s office or Area Agency on Aging may point you in the right direction for some support.
- Make a point to take good care of your nutritional needs. Drink lots of water, go for a walk and arrange for the best sleeping conditions you can. Take the TV out of your bedroom. Go to bed on time.
- This might be a great time to get a massage, see an acupuncturist or learn to meditate. Meditation in particular is amazingly helpful. Keep it simple and you can do it.
- Make use of EFT or Meridian Tapping to discharge the tension that comes up with difficult emotions. It is very helpful in clearing the way for effective decision making.
- Remember that this might be a marathon and not a sprint. Treat yourself accordingly.
Most of all, good grief requires us to pay attention to our inner life and nurture ourselves. This is a challenge when the outer life is especially demanding, as it is for care givers. Know that it will pay off in sustaining yourself, keeping you energized and eventually helping you move to acceptance and then recovery.