During the past three decades, Marion Somers, PhD, aka "Dr. Marion," provided care for more than 2,000 elderly clients while she owned and operated a thriving geriatric care management practice. It is now Dr. Marion's goal to help caregivers everywhere by providing valuable insights and information in her book, Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion’s 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One, and on her Web sites, DrMarion.com and DrMarion.org.
Grief can be a hard subject to talk about. No amount of planning can eliminate the grief or loss associated with the death of an elder loved one—and it shouldn’t. Grief is an important part of death, and you need to allow yourself to feel it. It is a healthy and powerful way to show love. Grief is often internalized through thoughts and feelings, but you may also express grief in words and tears. We were given tear ducts to relieve the stress and pressure of our lives. Use them.
When my sister passed away, I didn’t shed a tear because I was so focused on playing the caregiver role. Three months after she died, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and cried as deeply as I ever have for 30 straight minutes. There I was, thinking, “I’m a pro. I teach this. I said all the right things to my family.” Then it hit me: you’re in charge of allowing yourself to heal. You may heal slowly or quickly, but healing will come. You must allow yourself the time to heal, once you allow the grieving process to run its course.
Grieving is hard work, so be sure you do not cut the process short. If you feel comfortable, share your grief with someone you can trust. Grieve in a way that feels right to you, not necessarily in a way that others have suggested. Grief comes in many different forms: Some people cry, others scream and rant, others take quiet walks and reflect. The method itself doesn’t matter, but let the process be part of you for whatever period you need. Remember that a crisis can be overwhelming if you look at all aspects of it at once, so take it one minute, one hour, one day at a time.
It’s important to allow yourself to grieve, and then do something that makes you feel good. You have been through something difficult, but you can’t forget to take care of yourself. Go to a movie, shop, get some sun, watch a ball game, or get a massage.
What can you do to help comfort the people who are left behind? What are the right words? I suggest talking about an aspect of your elder’s life that was most impressive. Focus on the positive. Emotions will come and go in waves. I recommend that you allow yourself and others to express feelings and thoughts, whatever they may be.
Beware of depression setting in. Many family members, especially the caregiver, can become depressed after the loss. Be aware if you find yourself eating too much or too little, drinking too much, chain smoking, or any other uncharacteristic behavior. Also watch for similar behaviors in any close family members. If you think a professional could help you, arrange for an appointment, or try going to a support group. Remember to seek help as you need it, and you will get through this difficult time.
By Dr. Marion
Elder Care Made Easier Blog
[A version of this blog originally appeared on Dr. Marion’s Web site.]