Shortly after my mom passed, at the urging of a friend, I subscribed to daily emails from GriefShare. As one might expect, I’ve found that some of the messages touch me in a deeper way than others, and today’s fell into that category. It provided just the validation I needed to assure me that my confusion was natural and to be expected.

Time to Prepare

One of the things I have struggled with is the fact that I thought I was prepared. After nine years of steady decline, I certainly knew how the story would end. Over those years, Alzheimer’s had stolen a little piece of Mom each day. Grieving began long ago, and I expected after all this time that I had moved beyond it. I’ve even felt twinges of guilt because I had time to prepare; imagine those who don’t have that time – those for whom it all comes as a tragic surprise. Do I really have any right to feel such deep sorrow NOW, after years of grieving?

Shades of Gray

Well, I’m realizing that I have a lot to learn. Like many things in life, grief isn’t black and white; it’s tinted in a million hues of gray. The loss I’m feeling now is very different, and it reaches depths I’ve never experienced. It cuts like a knife and oddly, in some ways, it seems to be getting more difficult with each day rather than less so. Yesterday, on my way to work, my head suddenly filled with sad, painful memories of those last weeks. Seemingly out of nowhere, images flooded my mind faster than I could push them away.

I found myself driving along that all too familiar route with tears streaming down my face, and the only thing I could think to do was turn the radio up as loud as I could stand it. I desperately needed a distraction – something to shut out the agonizing memories.

Skydiving: A Fitting Analogy

When I read today’s message from GriefShare, it confirmed that these emotions are common when death follows a long illness. Anyone processing grief under similar circumstances may find this helpful.

When a person you love is sick or suffering, you begin to grieve before the actual loss. In some cases you may think that most of your grieving is already done. But despite your preparations, the grief that occurs after a person’s death goes beyond all your expectations.

Dr. Jim Conway lost his wife after a long battle with cancer. He says, “…I thought that because we had talked so much that there would be no grief. I really thought that I had resolved all that.

“But it is not like that at all. It was like looking at a video about jumping out of an airplane, freefalling, and finally your parachute opens. All of the previous stuff was just preparatory information, but it was not actually going out of the plane; it was not experiencing grief.

“When Sally died, it was as if somebody pushed me out of the plane, and now I am free-falling–this is what grief is like. You are in free fall. You wonder if the parachute is ever going to open. You wonder if you’re going to hit the ground at 120 miles per hour.”

Conway’s skydiving analogy paints the picture in a way that makes perfect sense. His words assure me that I’m not alone and that the experience is unique when grieving begins long before the loss.

Can you relate to these feelings? Feel free to share your own thoughts in the Comments section.

9 Comments

  1. Susan D'Amico

    I lost my Mom last week after a long time of grieving before hand for me…She had advanced dementia and I knew it was only a matter of when, not how. I am sort of numb…I feel as though I’ve cried a river these past 6 months knowing I was going to lose her soon, but yet, now that she is really gone, I think I am going to have a hard time coming to grips with her loss. There is no preparing for the final loss of someone you love so much. I was also the main care-giver for my Mom.

    • Ann Napoletan

      I’m so sorry, Susan. I can truly empathize with what you’re going through. They say time heals all wounds, and we have to trust in that. I also try to remind myself that my mom is whole again, happy, talking, laughing, and has finally found the peace that just couldn’t be found here on Earth. Thinking of her that way and knowing she will forever be my Guardian Angel brings some comfort when I can focus on that… She didn’t deserve the pain, terror, and deep sadness that came with the disease, so while I miss her more than words can say, I know it’s better now that she has been released from all of that… It’s so, so hard, though, for the ones left behind. Will keep you in my prayers… (((Hugs))) ~Ann

  2. Pam

    I am losing my father by inches to metatisized colon cancer. He is not gone gone yet and I dread the day I can no longer physically touch him. thanks for sharing.

    • Ann Napoletan

      I’m so sorry Pam. You know, I never realized just how much it meant to simply sit and hold my mom’s hand. Not being able to touch her anymore is beyond painful. I miss that so much…
      Sending you blessings. ~Ann

  3. Olllivier

    I experienced that lengthy grieving period before death, but what came after the fact when that loving touch was no more, I found difficult to deal with to this day, nine years later. I urge anyone having to face the end of life of a loved one to stay as physically close as possible, touching, whispering. Also, before the onset of decline be sure you make a video of your loved one if you don’t already have one. You will find these little suggestions will comfort you in the long haul ahead, as grief does not go away, it only gets more bearable with time.

  4. Claudette Allmansberger

    I am holding back the tears as I read the stories and comments left by all of you. My own mother is in the final stages of Parkinson’s and end stage dementia she must live in a nursing home. I am an only child and my father is 80. Parents married for 58 years my dad is lost. The experiences I have had with my mom over the past two years have changed my life. I have no children and feel I am in this alone & afraid. I was very close to my mom and she fell ill suddenly. She got a UTI that put poision in her system affecting her brain. The doctors stated she had these dorment diseases in her body and the poisons brought out the symptoms. She is completly helpless like an infant. She has no quality of life and has lost the ability to communicate. She only recognizes my father never me. At first I could not work and had to leave my job for 6 months then I thought I was ready to return to work and am still working but meltdown on a regular basis. My family does not know me anymore.. I don’t ever recognise my self. It’s like I lost my identity when I lost the ability to communicate with my mother…….. Sometimes it feels like no one else on earth could understand your situation. But in reading all your comments I know you do. May God Bless you all. Claudette

    • Ann Napoletan

      Claudette, I’m so very sorry about your mother. You are definitely not alone…so many of us understand how you’re feeling. Please try to get some support for yourself. Contacting the Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start. Also, if you are on Facebook, I recently found a wonderful group there called “Memory People,” and I really recommend joining. It’s an incredibly supportive, compassionate group of people, and there is a wealth of information shared on a daily basis. You may also find this post helpful – it contains six great online resources for caregivers. http://www.alzheimers.net/resource/2013-05-03/alzheimers-resources/ Blessings to you and your family, and thank you for visiting the Caregivers blog. I hope you’ll be by again. ~Ann

  5. LaNita Schartz

    I thought I was ready for Dad’s eventual passing as well but as I see the day approaching I realize I am not ready for it. I see the decline daily and think will this be the day I get the call that tells me he is gone. How do I deal with it? Will I be wrong if I feel relief that his battle is over. I realized Ann that I am no more ready now than when he was first diagnosed. He is beyond his understanding my love for him.

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