Grief and Loss
I know personally that grief is a constant companion for a caregiver.
I have been swept away by grief when I think the outcome will be a total loss. I have experienced how griefs and regrets can drain my energy and lower my resilience.
Over the years I have found ways to dance with grief using simple ritual practices that allow my grief to have a voice.
Ten years ago, my husband contracted Legionnaire’s disease. It took seven long days for the doctors to make a diagnosis and begin appropriate treatment. During those days, reports came in about his tenuous condition.
I was afraid.
I wondered what I would do without him.
Anticipatory grief overwhelmed me. I confided my fears to two close friends. They listened without giving advice. Their gift of simply listening allowed me to be more present for my husband as he struggled to live.
In the past six months I have begun a new journey in caregiving.
My husband shows signs of drifting into the last stage of elderhood as he invents new versions of reality to cover for his lack of memory.
In the beginning, I was angry, for example, that he had forgotten how to cook. I showed my frustration with his inability to follow simple directions. When I realized that he was experiencing a great deal of confusion, I had to step back and reorient myself.
I had to recognize that I was becoming a caregiver again.
I had to prepare myself for this new adventure.
From experience, I knew I had to flush out my old grief so that when new grief appeared, I could better recognize it.
To do this grief work, I visited a curandero in northern Peru who removed layers of my grief through ceremony. First, I released my grief for my ancestors. I honored my mother, father, grandmothers and friends who had died. I thanked them for all the love they had given me.
The next layer of grief was for my unborn children.
My husband and I went to great lengths to have children but none of the in vitro fertilization techniques worked for us. I honored the young people who have allowed me to become an auntie in their lives. I thanked them for their trust in me.
Lastly, I shed my self-grief.
This was the most difficult grief to release.
In ceremony I expressed my self-pity and “Why me?” Once I released each grief, I could then step into gratitude for all that I have in my life. I am grateful for my marriage of 40 years and can now adjust my expectations within it.
I am ready to make a new commitment to step into this journey with my eyes wide open, armed with all the skills I have accumulated over the years. I am ready for the challenge.
It won’t be easy.
But, one of my best skills is knowing how to recognize and honor my grief through ritual and ceremony, giving it space to teach me how to love deeply and live fully.
Well of Grief Ritual
Work with water and stones on your caregiver’s altar to honor your grief.
Tips for Anticipatory Grief
Do you sometimes feel you are grieving the loss of your loved one as though they have already died?
Do you feel anxious about the impact caregiving may have on your finances or career?
Are you worrying about the life you will have when caregiving is over?
Anticipatory grief is grief that occurs before a loved one physically dies.
This is normal and can happen long before the death of your loved one. It’s important to know anticipatory grief may also present itself in areas that aren’t directly associated with your feelings for your loved one.
Any upcoming change can create feelings of loss in advance.
Grief may arise when you recognize the impact caregiving might have on your job, your finances, or your social life. This experience can be confusing and bring about all kinds of unexpected emotions.
Allowing yourself to grieve these impending losses is an important part of your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. And doing so can also help pave the way for your loved one’s physical death.
So, take care of yourself as your grief arises.
Start with acknowledging and accepting your feelings without judging them. Then find a healthy way to release them through exercise, talking with a friend and using rituals like the Well of Grief.
Family Caregiver Alliance: Grief and Loss
How Anticipatory Grief Differs from Grief After Death
The Well of Grief by David Whyte
The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief by Francis Weller