I recently presented my Caregiver Survival Training course at a weekend retreat for family caregivers and grandparents who are raising grandchildren. On Saturday, we talked about caregiver anger and guilt.
I introduced my three-step process of developing an “Attitude of Creative Indifference,” which begins with becoming aware of the people, situations, and events that are causing you the greatest amount of emotional stress. During the session, I encouraged the caregivers and grandparents to share their experiences with one another and then I stressed the importance of writing about their feelings.
I explained that when you commit painful, hurtful, and frightening thoughts to paper, it helps brings clarity to difficult situations. It also allows your subconscious mind to stop working on the problem.
Just before I started the session on caregiver depression and grief, I was asked if Pat, a woman who cares for her husband with diabetes and is also raising her grandchildren, could read a poem her granddaughter Hannah had written about the loss of her mother.
On the night before Mother’s Day, when Hannah and her twin brother were fourteen, their mother died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. Pat and her husband adopted the children and, for the first several months, they all had a very difficult time coping with their loss.
At 16, Hannah was struggling in school. When she was acting out one day, a teacher grabbed her by the shoulders and said, “You need to stop what you’re doing right now! I want you to sit down and write about what you’re feeling.”
This is the poem that Hannah wrote:
IF I WAS A COMPOSER
By Hannah Roy
If I was a composer I would write me some music about real hurt and real pain.
A song where you don’t just hear the lyrics, you feel them.
You’ll get to suffer through what it’s like to not be able hear your mom’s voice for the rest of your life, or feel her caring touch, and see her loving face again.
To never wake up from that nightmare.
It will get louder and louder just like the pain gets worse and worse.
I would compose deep beats of bass for my angriness.
The genre will be screamo and I will scream that I didn’t get to apologize for being the worst daughter alive.
Smooth trickles of water for the summer nights I could hear my brother cry out for his best friend in his sleep.
The speakers will vibrate because hearing it brings you so much pain you can only shake.
My fans will get to listen to the lies of adults as they try to comfort you and tell you she went peacefully when in reality you know how much pain she was in.
The CD and album cover will be dark and somehow whisk a cold cool onto your arms like the one that caused goosebumps on mine as I stood there on the cold dark night surrounded by police and EMS members as it got more and more surreal.
Then all of a sudden screams will roar through your eardrums and you’ll be full of pure hatred as you run towards the door they wouldn’t let you through but even more hatred at yourself for trying.
The screaming will seize and all will be quiet as shock fills the air.
The chorus of my song will fill that silence with the photos that play in my mind every time I close my eyes.
A constant rerunning of flashing lights, pale dead skin, that red hair no longer looking lively as you see her.
No longer your mom.
It’s all over.
She’s really gone.
She was limp on a bed.
My only song will be called.
The pain expressed in Hannah’s poem is so raw and intense, it’s almost hard to read. It’s difficult to imagine that a 16 year-old girl’s heart could bear that much grief.
Although Pat had encouraged Hannah to talk about her feelings, she had refused. Later Hannah said that she hadn’t wanted to talk about her own grief because she didn’t want to add her pain to her grandmother’s sorrow.
Moving Past Grief and Helping Others
There are no shortcuts through grief. For the first few years Pat told people she was raising her grandchildren because their mother had died. It’s just been recently that she’s been able to acknowledge that she also lost her daughter.
Writing the poem started the healing process for Hannah. Soon afterward, she enrolled in class to become an emergency medical responder. She has completed the training, and later this month when she turns 18, she will receive her license.
A few weeks ago, a woman who knows the family told Pat she had been amazed by Hannah’s competence and compassion. The woman’s husband had suffered a heart attack, and she said Hannah performed CPR on him for nearly half an hour.
When her grandmother asked Hannah about this, she said, “It wasn’t just me. Our entire crew worked as a unit trying to save him.” She said they always continue trying to revive a person, even when they know there is no chance for survival, because no one ever wants someone’s family to wonder if there was anything else that could have been done to save their loved one’s life.
Hannah will go to college in the fall. Right now her plan is to become a paramedic. I’m absolutely certain that she will be successful in whatever path she chooses to follow.
I just wish her mom could see her now. Hannah struggled, but writing about her grief provided a release and ended up giving her direction and purpose. At almost 18-years-of-age, Hannah’s commitment to helping other people get through a crisis and cope with their pain has turned her into a young woman that would make any mother proud!
Elaine K Sanchez is the author of the unflinchingly honest and surprisingly funny book, Letters from Madelyn, Chronicles of a Caregiver, Second Edition, which was released May 17, 2016, and is now available on Amazon and in bookstores. She is co-founder of CaregiverHelp.com, an online caregiver support program, and she frequently speaks at caregiving, eldercare, and healthcare conferences across the US. Contact her directly at elaine@EKSanchez.com.