For almost 6 years, I was the primary caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer’s disease. Initially, I only provided a few hours of support for her each week, largely helping with errands and finances. As her illness progressed, however, she became totally dependent on me for care. We eventually moved her to a memory care program about a year before she died.
Since she passed 7 months ago, I have been having trouble coping—definitely more so than others in my extended family. While we knew her disease was advancing and that she probably wouldn’t be with us much longer, she actually died very suddenly from a heart attack.
My days used to be hectic and stressful between juggling my career with caring for my mom and for my own family. Now my kids are away at college and my mother is gone.
Do you have any advice you can share on how to deal with the loss of a loved one? It would be much appreciated.
How to Deal with the Loss of a Loved One
First, my sincerest of condolences on your mother’s passing. The first year after the loss of someone dear is especially tough. Since you were her caregiver, you are likely coping with both physical and emotional exhaustion.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that presents different challenges for families at every stage of the illness. In fact, experts use the phrase “the long goodbye” to describe the loss because the disease slowly robs the senior of their identity and the family of their loved one.
Remind yourself that grieving is a process that takes as long as it takes. Know that it is okay if it feels like you are taking longer to work your way through the process than others, and be kind to yourself. Seven months isn’t a very long time when it comes to learning how to grieve the loss of a friend or family member.
Since it doesn’t sound like your mother’s passing was expected, you may not have had hospice involved in her care. That likely means you haven’t received any bereavement counseling.
Bereavement counselors typically stay in touch with families for at least 12 months after their loss. This helps the family navigate their way through all of the firsts: the first Christmas or Hanukkah without their loved one as well the first birthday, Thanksgiving, and the first anniversary of other special days.
While everyone processes grief differently, there are steps you can take that might help you feel better:
Connect with a support group: Even if your mother wasn’t part of a hospice organization when she passed away, most hospices will welcome you to join one of their bereavement groups as part of their community outreach program. Another option is to join an online grief support group. Daily Support and Grieving.com are 2 to consider. Connecting with others who have lost a loved one will help you find support from those experiencing similar struggles.
Practice good self-care: When you were busy caring for your mom and your children, you likely put your own health and well-being lower on the list of priorities. Take time now to care for yourself. Talk with your physician to make sure you are up-to-date on important health screenings. Make a point of eating right, getting the proper amount of sleep, and exercising. You will likely find your mental health improves as your physical health gets back on track.
Stay connected: While it’s normal to want to spend time alone processing your loss, don’t isolate yourself completely. If you aren’t ready for parties or group outings, schedule a lunch date each week with a friend. Or maybe take in a comedy with a friend at the local movie theater. This might also be a good time to tackle a new passion you’ve always been interested in but never had time for, like learning how to play the guitar or speak French. Others have found volunteering for a cause they believe in helps fill the time in a meaningful way.
My final piece of advice is to talk with your primary care doctor if you feel like things are hopeless and you just can’t get back on track. It isn’t uncommon for people who’ve experienced a loss to need short-term medical intervention to prevent grief from becoming a serious case of depression, which is also treatable. Best wishes and stay in touch.