Grief is described as deep sorrow, usually after someone dies. We’ve all lost loved ones at one point or another and the stages of emotions that people go through when grieving are those of denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance. These are not necessarily in order and may repeat during the bereavement process.
What should be recognized is the fact that when someone is caring for someone with dementia, they often experience these same stages. Not necessarily in the same order yet repeating through the caregiving journey.
Let’s look at the losses that dementia caregivers are facing every single day. Loss of who their loved one used to be, the loss of the dynamic between parent and child, watching their loved one grieve their own independence, the sadness that comes along with watching a cognitive decline and the loss of their own freedom and independence now that someone else is dependent on them. Ambiguous grief can be described as a significant loss while someone is still alive. Imagine a parent who loved you all of your life or a spouse who has loved you for many years who is now not able to recognize you. Such an unspeakable loss of a relationship where neither party can control what is happening.
Grieving the living is not a process that is defined. Each person must deal with these emotions in their own way, much like when someone loses a loved one. Sometimes friends and family do not understand what a caregiver is going through during this process because most people associate grief with death. It is important to share these feelings of grief with friends and family if they are considered a support system so they can better understand. Many caregivers isolate themselves during their caregiving experience because they think no one understands. Grieving can be a lonely time for someone when they have lost a loved one. It can be just as lonely when one is grieving for someone who is still alive and can no longer relate to them the way they used to due to a terminal illness, mental illness or cognitive decline such as dementia.
Recognizing these emotions as stages of grief can help us change the caregiving outcome and create a healthier adjustment to the bereavement journey once their loved does pass. If these emotions get to be much more than one can handle, it is recommended that you join a support group for caregivers. If that doesn’t help to deal with emotions it may be time to get some professional help.