Grieving Doesn't Have An Outline
Whether you are recovering from the loss of a loved one after dementia caregiving or some other event, grief is different for everyone. Just because one person behaved a certain way doesn't mean that you have to follow in their lead.
I will say, however, that recovering after dementia caregiving is very different than any other grieving process. This is because as your love one lost bits and pieces of himself or herself along the way, you too grieved that loss along with them. You also grieved the loss of what you expected or dreamed that your future would be.
Because you grieved as the disease process was continuing doesn't mean that you feel the loss when it is over any less strongly, it is just mixed with a sense of relief for your dementia journey being over.
It may be helpful for you to attend a grief group, or if you belonged to a dementia support group, to continue attending that group as a means of support during this time. Either way you need to continue to socialize and make yourself stay connected. Also it is important that you not "close yourself off" from your emotions. In order to work through all the many different feelings you have, you must let yourself feel them, and own them.
I continued with my dementia support group, eventually becoming the next facilitator for the group I had attended, and now facilitate another. Also writing the book with my dear friend, Ann Henderberg, which we started a few months after our husbands' deaths, also helped tremendously in working through our feelings. Sometimes we would be crying or laughing as we discussed a certain passage.
It may take a year or two before you can "see the light at the end of the tunnel" as far as grief is concerned. You will know when you are there because you will suddenly see a list of things that you want to do, a "bucket list" of sorts, where there was none before.
Establishing Who You Are
Depending on your personal experience of whether you lived independently before the relationship with your loved one, you may have to figure out who you are now. I had never lived on my own before marriage. I went from attending college to marriage, and had no experience in living all by myself. You must figure out what you want out of life as an independent person, and possibly how to go about whatever that is.
I am still figuring that out. I used to think while I was caregiving, that when it was all over I would want to be with another person to spend the rest of my life. Now that six years have gone by, I'm not so sure I do. It would take a very special person to urge me to marry again. On the one hand, I just don't want to go through being a caregiver again! After 19 years, I want some "me" time.
I was very lucky being married to Jim. In many ways he prepared me for living by myself by fostering my independence while being married. He always made me make my own car appointments, call about some of our repairs on the house, and I did all the finances so I wasn't left not knowing where I stood financially when my dementia journey was over. Because he always had summers off, we "switched roles" in the summer as he played "mister mom" and I was the breadwinner.
When you are going through this growth process, it is of utmost importance that eventually you decide positively to be happy! If you look at the woman in the picture above, she looks happy. My husband, as a school psychologist and family therapist, said to me often, if you act happy, you will become happy and that is true. Your emotions will follow your actions! So decide that you will be happy. No one wants to be unhappy for the rest of their life. Act the part and you will become the part!
Take it a step at a time. But when new things cross your mind that you want to do someday, take action. Make it happen. One of the first things I wanted to do was see the Rocky Mountains, and visit the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion. I am so very lucky because I have a couple we have been friends with for years, and they invited me to go with them to Yellowstone, and another year to the Canadian Rockies by train. I didn't hesitate, I went. Both were amazing experiences. And I was able to share the experience with old friends.
This year I wanted to fulfill my dreams of seeing the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion. I didn't want to go alone, or even orchestrate a trip by myself. So I picked a trip from the Road Scholar Programs and then put out a mass e-mail asking all of my friends if they wanted to go. I was hoping to get someone who would want to share the experience and accommodations with me. I did! And even if I hadn't found a friend, the Road Scholar organization would have paired me with another female if I wanted.
Start with one particular thing you want to do, and little by little you will be able to branch out and attain all sorts of goals you never thought you would!
I secretly always wanted to try a spinning class (stationary bike). My neighbor went and asked if I would be interested. I said "Yes", so now I am doing that.
We all feel sorry for ourselves, wishing our lives were different, wishing our loved ones were still with us, but we all know life doesn't always seem fair.
Look at the gifts that this path has given me: steadfast friends, the valuable lesson of being able to "live in the moment", and the eventual conclusion that in caregiving we did our best at the time, and that was good enough! We learn to let go of the guilt. . . .
Life Is What YOU Make it!
Don't wait for someone else to come along and invite you. If you do you may never realize your dreams. I can honestly say that I have had a wonderful life! If it ends today, I would have no regrets. Don't waste whatever time you have left.
It doesn't mean that we do everything perfectly, but with our experiences we are given the opportunity to learn new things. Do we grow with each new step? I hope so. To me, all of life is a big test, and how we react and learn from each new adventure is the key, our legacy!
I Am A Dog Lover
I had dachshunds as a child, and our son wanted a pet, but Jim was asthmatic and so we could never have anything bigger than a gerbil.
After Jim's death, I wanted a dog to keep me distracted from the fact that I was living alone. Although many would not want the hassle of always orchestrating who would take care of the dog should I want to travel, it was perfect for me. Because I am caring for her, I don't think about the things that make it scary to be alone, and she gives me so much unconditional love in return. I'm so glad I did it!
Deciding To Follow Through - Zion, Bryce, & Grand Canyon 10/5/17
About two weeks before leaving on my Road Scholar trip, my friend who was to accompany me had to back out because of the health of her mother. I knew this was a possibility when we booked the trip, and I had made up my mind that I would go anyway. Road Scholar is a great organization (once called Elderhostel) that has innumerable trip offerings in the US and abroad. They are geared towards the over 55 crowd who wants not only to visit great places, but also wants to learn about the history, flora, & fauna of those places.
As it turns out, I met a wonderful woman the first night, and we spent the entire trip together on the bus, during meals, and at free times. We also met a number of others, couples, and singles who were a lot of fun to be with. We were a cohesive group...all 37 of us and the guides could not have been better! I had such a great time I would not hesitate to book as a single and travel with them again.
One more place checked off my bucket list!
New Reflections . . .
As the weeks go by I will be adding new articles to this page. I hope you will mark my site and come back often to see what's new!