When people talk about grief and loss, they typically focus on the feelings and experience we have after the death of a loved one.
But I’m here to tell you, there are many more layers to grief than most people realize, and it’s time we make a concerted effort to address additional losses and how they impact the people going through them. One case in point that is extremely painful is watching a loved one slowly lose pieces of themselves while battling conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
As a kid, I distinctly remember my dad having a conversation with people in the room about the high rate of memory loss conditions in his family. He expressed that this was one of his biggest fears “to go out like that” and that “I would never want to put that kind of burden on my family. Just put me somewhere.” Of course this led to further discussion and promises of “no nursing homes or care facilities (gently reassuring him that we would take care of him in the event this did indeed happen).”
It also planted a seed of fear in my brain that maybe this dreaded disease was in my genes and could impact me or my loved ones on down the road. It was the first time I had stopped to think about other means of grief and pain that didn’t include the dreaded cancer or heart attack and so I began to pay closer attention to what I then referred to as “the slow death.”
You see, as I grew older, I also began to work more closely with those who were actually walking the path of caring for someone they love that was experiencing memory loss. Their pain is complicated in that they begin to grieve the moment the diagnosis is made, knowing that it has now become a race against the clock, that time is “limited,” not in a physical way, but in an emotional sense because one day they will wake up and “not remember” who they are or who the people are around them.
In most instances, the disease process is excruciatingly slow, which as most would tell you can be both a blessing and a curse. Watching the person you love decline, their memories scattered and jumbled, and then their inability to remember how to care for themselves is a grief unlike any other.
If you know someone who is currently walking this path, I would encourage you to reach out to them and acknowledge the pain they are going through. Hear me when I say this. They are struggling and asking for help or emotional support can be difficult.
Yes, their loved one is still alive, but sometimes that can be even more painful as recognition and shared memories begin to disappear. Without a doubt, the life they have together has been altered, but one thing never falters, and that is the love that continues to weave them together.
Jenny Filush-Glaze is a licensed counselor and owner of Serenity Community Counseling LLC. Contact her at email@example.com.