Death. For some, it signals the beginning of a more perfect life. For others, it is the end. Ultimately, for everyone, death is part of the life cycle and no amount of medical intervention will change that. Filmmaker Cathy Zheutlin became fascinated by the way that different cultures and religions view the death experience, and in the process, she has made a remarkable film titled Living While Dying, which features people who are going through that process and their varying emotions.
When store employees wish us "Merry Christmas!" we smile back and return the greeting. When acquaintances wave and shout "Happy Holidays!" across a parking lot we wave back with good wishes. When we take part in our work holiday celebrations we put on our happy face. Yet many of us don't feel merry or happy during this time of celebration. Caregivers, especially, may be even less likely than others to be looking forward to all of the hoopla associated with the expected happy holidays. Some of us dread even thinking about it. How do we beat this feeling of holiday blues so that we can get through the next few weeks?
It's difficult to know exactly what to say to someone suffering from grief since words or actions that comfort one person can feel like a slap in the face to another. Yet most of us want to offer comfort when a person whom we care about is grieving the imminent death of a loved one, or after such a death has occurred. Following are tips that may help you find the right words, or at least some passable words, as well as advice from caregivers and spouses who’ve been through tough times.
Even though holidays can be fraught with stress because of societal expectations that they should be happy no matter what our circumstances, most of us have happy memories of celebrations when we were young. Our parents were in charge, and kids were the focus. As our parents age and can no longer be in charge of celebrations, the duties tend to fall to adult children. Our heart's desire is to provide a way for our aging parents to enjoy the holidays, but their circumstances can make that challenging. First and foremost, however, remember that it's your presence that is the most important thing. That, and helping your parents to feel included in whatever way they can participate.
Thanksgiving is over, and hopefully, most of you who are caregivers were able to enjoy helping your elder celebrate to whatever degree they could. Some of you will have had cheery loved ones, while others just “made it through the day.” Often, with elders who are frail or sick, we really don’t know what a day will bring. When I had multiple elders living in multiple places, each holiday was a challenge. I wanted to give everyone the holidays they were used to, and that, of course, was impossible. Therefore, I was hard on myself.
DEAR CAROL: My wife has had a stroke that’s left her mostly paralyzed on one side. She can’t speak well and she cries often. We’re in our 70s and have spent our lives as active church people. In fact, we’ve done our share of visiting hospitals and nursing homes representing the church. We’ve told people that what they are facing is their reality and that we will pray for them. We’ve told them to be grateful for what they have. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. I’m having a difficult time feeling grateful for anything at all. Instead, I feel angry, exhausted, frustrated and frightened. How could I have been such a hypocrite all of these years? – Roger
By some measures, Alzheimer’s disease has become the most feared diagnosis one can hear ― even more so than cancer. Additionally, most people think of Alzheimer’s as an “old people’s” disease. Taking these two thoughts together, Hazel Minnick has defied assumptions. She has shown that one can live with Alzheimer’s disease even when it tries to steal meaning and memories in middle age. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 53, Hazel has been living with the disease for more than 18 years. Her early years were grim even as she fought to do everything she could to improve her health. She used a wheelchair much of time.
An amazing book of stories that will touch your heart and encourage you, especially if you are a caregiver. Carol Bradley Bursack also has an excellent website devoted to the elderly and their caregivers. - Carol Heilman *Great Christmas gift!
On this day I think of all veterans who've served our country, but of course I feel the closest to my loved ones: My dad (U.S. Army); my two uncles (one in the U.S. Army Air Corps which became the U.S. Air Force, one in the U.S. Army - he survived being a WWII POW); my brother (U.S. Army); my nephew (U.S. Army); and my partner and love (U.S. Navy). While these veterans' political views cover a wide spectrum, they are all patriots who served with honor and pride. Thank you to all veterans, and extra love to my personal heroes on this day - your day.
Every person who becomes a caregiver will have unique personality traits, yet we nearly always share certain feelings and experiences as we travel a road similar to one another. That’s one reason that caregivers often turn to other caregivers for support. It’s a version of the adage that we need to walk in another’s shoes in order to truly understand what they feel.
One of those shared experiences is a certain amount of stress. Some personalities cope with the ever-changing, nearly always challenging, business of caring for another adult with health issues better than others. A positive attitude and a flexible approach can go a long way as we feel our way along the sometimes uncertain path a caregiver must follow. But even the most laid back person is going to feel stressed by the responsibilities of caregiving from time to time. That’s normal and to be expected. With some care, people generally bounce back. What caregivers need to watch for is burnout.
Can caregivers get so drawn into the world of the care receiver that their mental health is at risk? I received a private email from a reader that made me think more deeply about this possibility. The reader said she’d been caring for her mother in her mother’s home for three years. The mother has middle stage Alzheimer’s and can be quite "creative" about reality. The caregiver told me that she does what experts often suggest and tries to join her mother in her mother’s dementia world. She loves her mother and doesn’t mind that she spends most of her time caring for her, but is afraid that she is becoming so drawn into her caregiving that she may be losing touch with the non-caregiving world.