Grief is a funny (!) thing. As humans we grieve things – loss of friendship, loss of possessions, loss of health – so many things. Then there is loss of something infinitely more tricky to get your soul around. The loss of someone you love. Right there. In front of your eyes. Slowly vanishing, being eaten away by a degenerative disease . When I say loss it sounds like I am being sloppy, like I should gather my wits and go get back the thing that seems to be creeping away, except I can’t. Like so many other families who have loved ones who are suffering from degenerative diseases, the worst part of it is the watching life literally slip through everyone’s fingers.
When my Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimers, I was already on the path of grief and yet I didn’t know it. It didn’t take a neurologist to work out things were not going so well for her. As a daughter I was already experiencing the gut wrenching pain that was a bond so close, fun and happy starting to diminish. At the time, I really needed my Mum. I couldn’t bear the fact that she wasn’t ‘there’ in the way I needed her. She had been my rock, my sounding board, my saviour and now, in the middle of the blur of life and a right royal mess that I had gotten myself in to, the tables were turning and I was becoming the carer in the relationship. There was a mentally dark dark patch for me. A time of intense mental wrangle. I don’t think that I really understood that my own mental health was seriously jeopardised at this time and that I changed as a person into something almost unrecognisable. I couldn’t grieve. I simply couldn’t grieve for the loss that I was experiencing. I seemed like I was giving up on her by letting my grief out.
The first time I really let my grief out was to my now husband. It took both of us by surprise; I had kept things as private as I could, trying to carry on as usual compartmentalising Mums illness under the title of “deal with it later”. Then wallop, there it was, hot grief that had been culminating over time. Hideous, wracked body sobbing. And then more sobbing because it felt wrong to be sobbing for someone that was still alive. And you know what…..My husband told me it was OK. Simple words. It was OK. No drama. I wasn’t creating drama, in fact it was healthy to just let it out. And that’s when the penny started to drop. Grieving is so hard; everyone has to grieve in their own time and their own way. To start to grieve is a terrifying thought. The idea that you may lose control, become some dodgy person that other people avoid. Imagine losing the plot completely? Those were all things that terrified me.
I think of Mum’s illness as a drip feed of grief. It is unique to me, the way that I cope with it and in turn grieve it. Sod being acceptable to ‘society’ in the way you grieve. For me trying to grieve or not grieve was nearly the unravelling of me. So here I am 4 years into the diagnosed Alzheimers journey with my Mum. Now I am starting to work out my own formula for loss and losing her. I am learning to let myself be peaceful and to grieve when I want to. I think of all the great times that we have had together and of course all the lovely memories that I will continue to create with her. These are so important, they help me to keep the grief in perspective.
As I was writing this, I got a card in the post. We have recently moved house – my Mums carer and Mum had gone and bought one (all the carers doing, Mum doesn’t even know where I live, let alone that I am pregnant again). A heart warming moment receiving a card from Mum and then I looked at the message and the tears started. My Mums writing has ‘gone’ – another twist of this cruel disease. More hot tears as I tried to decipher the message, a huge hug from my husband and son and that little bit of grief is now ‘out there’ and I feel more peaceful because of it.
This is the way life is now. It doesn’t mean I don’t lead a happy and lovely life, I do, I really do. Its just that I have learn’t that letting things go that I can’t control is much the best way. It keeps my grief in perspective on a day to day basis and helps me keep on an even keel.
How do you cope with grief? Do you have your own coping strategy? I’d love to hear from you.