There are many types of loss–some types of profound loss aren’t losses of loved ones. Divorce, loss of limbs, or even loss of a job can be emotionally devastating. Some experience a sudden loss of a loved one while others sit by helplessly watching the person they love slowly slip away. There isn’t one type of loss that hurts less than others–all feelings of loss are painful ones. Many aspects of grief that I experienced with the loss of Randy, ring true today as I watch my Grandma slowly lose a battle with Alzheimer’s–it’s a chronic loss. Every day, or every week, we grieve another piece of her.
When I come home from seeing her, I’m emotionally done. Often these days, I am physically worn out from running up the halls (and back) checking on her, talking to professionals about her care and how she is doing overall. Her and Grandpa are in the same facility, so often they have me fluttering around the halls getting her a pillow, him a shirt, a different drink, etc. And I do it, gladly, knowing my time is limited. The exhaustion doesn’t stop there, my mind is shot–I often feel like I might be suffering from dementia. My brain is full. My mind is constantly sorting through must do for kids, my honey-do list, and medical problems, insurance benefits, facility problems, or tasks to complete. The few hours I sleep at night, my only respite.
My social work experience/degree has helped tremendously. My EMT license, just as helpful. My time spent working in a hospital, specifically in Social Services, nearly priceless. I had complete living wills and Power of Attorneys taken care of years ago because I know how important they are. When we started noticing memory slips, we slowly took over household tasks as they became too difficult for my grandparents to complete/handle. We did that until we had completely taken over all the responsibilities for their house, bills, car, and health. My mom and I were solely responsible for their well-being and management of their standard of living.
I know there are times in our lives when other things and other people are more important than watching Grey’s Anatomy or folding clothes. I don’t regret doing all I can for my grandparents. I owe them that, at the very least–in fact, I wish I could do more. I have missed my family. I have not worked with my toddlers on language and motor skills. I didn’t open the pool and I don’t play outside with them. I often order out more than I cook, or worse yet, leave them to fend for themselves. My older kids are raising my younger kids. My husband is asleep when I’m home and I’m gone when he’s home. We don’t have date nights–we don’t even have conversations, unless he is listening to me vent and I don’t think that really counts.
I feel guilty. I feel like I should do more. Sometimes, I feel like I have failed everyone. Sometimes I want to cry, throw things and scream–other times I actually do it. I do sit, I do nap, and I do take long baths and I disappear to my bed earlier than I should in the evenings. I sit alone in my car to steal a few more moments to myself. I pray quietly often. I try to write, but usually there are so many thoughts I can’t separate them.
My kids don’t understand. Maybe, my husband doesn’t either. For all I know, neither do you. I would like to say that it really doesn’t matter to me what you or anyone else thinks, however, guilt consumes me sometimes. What a bad mother I am to force my kids to watch their siblings while I take care of grandma–worse yet, I make them watch babies so I can do nothing. I sit on the couch while laundry piles up and floors collect crumbs. What kind of person am I? Intellectually, I can answer that–I’m human and can only do so much. Intellectually, thanks to my degree, I know I should take respite. I know that if I don’t use those stolen moments, I truly might lose my mind.
The other day, I met with a nurse. I was telling her my concerns about billing, money in general, and how this all works. She stopped me mid sentence. She put her hand on the table and said, “Sara, this is a worry free zone now. We are here and you are done being a social worker. You don’t have to be her nurse anymore. You get to be who you need to be. You are just going to be a daughter and grand-daughter. We will do the worrying, you do the loving.”
I have fought, with my mom right by my side, every step of the way to make sure we did the right things. Our goal has always been to make sure they are happy, comfortable, and safe. Every waking hour of every single day, being staunch protectors and ever available sources of comfort for Grandma and Grandpa. And just like that, one sentence freed me from those chains of guilt. Someone, who I trust, finally took control so we didn’t have to. I know I will worry, I know I will still spend hours with two of the most important people to ever enter my life, I will still bug nurses and sort through information–and, I know it only gets worse from here. It will be done through a grand-daughter’s eyes instead of a caregiver’s. I can assure you, the only thing that kept me from sobbing uncontrollably at the prospect was the shock of hearing such compassionate words from someone who barely knew me.
I didn’t write this to receive accolades or atta-girls. As I tried to enjoy a long, hot bath tonight, I couldn’t help but ruminate on what happened. It really touched me. Beyond that, it made me remember those days and months after Randy died. It brought to mind some things that were hard for me while grieving. Maybe they are things you already know and do–maybe they are brand new way of thinking. Either way, it can’t hurt to share.
As I laid in the tub, I was thinking how nice it is to share the load with someone who knows what they are doing. Instant weight lifted from my shoulders. The important part of this thought is, I let her in. Had I not admitted I (we) needed help, I’d never have discovered how important it is to get the right help. It was also a nice reminder to never give up. It reminded me how hard it was for me to open up and ask for help as a widow. Our tendency is to pull in and cut people off–we shut off friends and strangers alike. People surround us with very painful memories of happier times. While it is important to be introspective, it is potentially harmful if you do it without a plan in place.
It is hard to reach out. Reaching out makes your pain public and it forces you to show the world how vulnerable you really are. I assure you, asking for help is not a sign of weakness–it will be one of the biggest tests of courage most of us will ever face. After I admitted to myself that I was all overwhelmed, I called Randy’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and asked to talk to someone. They connected me to a counselor (a social worker). I made an appointment.
I dreaded every second leading up to that appointment, and many appointments after. My anxiety was on overload and I wanted nothing more than a perfect excuse to stay home–or, better yet, in bed. Sometimes, I looked hard enough that I found one. Harder yet was sharing my story with her for the first time. I’m not sure how she even understood through my blubbering. Somehow, not only did she understand how hard it was, but surprised me with her caring nature and plan for getting me on track. Pulling into yourself and not letting others in, increases your work load and your anxiety. Fears and sadness run rampant. It isn’t easy asking for help , but it is damn sure easier than doing it alone.
Grieving, especially if you have children at home, can drench you with guilt. I felt guilty. Guilty that I couldn’t be the person I was before the accident. Guilty that I couldn’t manage to cook dinner and help them complete their homework all in one night or that the dirty dishes filled the sink and overflowed onto the counter.
If you were to slice your hand wide open, to the bone, you might feel a little silly explaining to someone how it happened, but you would never dream about refusing stitches to save explaining your lapse in judgment. You would head to the emergency room, let them treat your pain and the wound itself. You know that getting stitches might hurt, but letting a gaping wound go untreated and become infected would only make things worse. It would cause more pain, more extensive treatment, and a lot more time to recuperate.
Grieving with help is exactly like that. This is a wound so deep you probably do not have the know-how, where-with-all, or tools to manage it on your own and there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling in a professional before it is so infected you lose a piece of yourself. And, if you are grieving with children in the home, it helps them know you are okay–they have already lost one parent, I guarantee they worry about losing you too. It shows them you can be sad without losing yourself. It shows them how to take care of themselves in difficult situations. There is no reason to risk irreversible damage to you or your kids.
People spend years and years getting degrees to help people like you. Those counselors could have been engineers, teachers or scientists. They chose to be counselors and therapists because they want to help people. Many of them chose their careers based on their own troubles throughout life, so they might have a personal understanding of how vicious grief is.
I have written similar posts to this one, I’m sure. I strongly believe in its message and this new journey has reconfirmed that belief. While you may be a different person now, and you might not be able to take a step away from this situation to relax, there are things you can do. Do as many things as you can to come out the other side a whole person.