The Loss Before the Loss
Anticipatory grief- the feelings of loss experienced before the physical loss of a loved one. The grief that occurs when someone you know is diagnosed with a terminal illness, has a disability that impairs their ability to thrive, or simply begins to age and decline. These events begin to shape the way we see and interact with our loved ones.
Do you know someone with Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's is a debilitating illness affecting 1 in 9 Americans (Gaugler et al, 2015). A disease that often impairs the communication with your loved one so much, it may feel like they are actually gone. In our day-to-day lives, we communicate with people. We talk, we listen, maybe forming a rebuttal, offering advice, or providing support. These interactions are significantly changed when someone has Alzheimer's. We may feel alone. Maybe you are a child caring for a parent. Your parent once cared for you and so you feel obligated to care for them. Many caregivers find themselves overwhelmed, stressed, and unprepared for such a task. Caregiver burnout is real, especially for those caring for a loved one with this disease.
Patient's family members frequently tell me they feel they have already lost their mother or father. "This isn't my parent," they say. Maybe this is true, the person they now see is very different from the strong, independent person they once knew. I also find that family members feel torn as they "let go" of their loved one as they approach the end-of-life. The reality is that yes, in a sense these people have already lost their parent. On the other hand, this doesn't necessarily make it easier to accept the loss. In reality, when this anticipatory grief has been unaddressed, it can further compound the grief that occurs after the loss. Bereaved may feel "cheated" of time spent with their loved one and the inability to have these meaningful conversations near the end.
What can I do?
Find support groups in your area (i.e. Alzheimer's Association)
Talk to a professional
Plan for the future (legal documents, long-term care)
Consider adult day care or respite services
Educate yourself on the disease
Take care of YOU
Gaugler, J., James, B., Johnson, T., Scholz, K., & Weuve, J. (2015). 2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer's Association. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.alz.org/facts/downloads/facts_figures_2015.pdf