Monday, August 15, 2005

The Grief Cycle and Caregiving

Anytime we suffer a loss in our lives, we go through the grief cycle.

The grief cycle is composed of a series of emotions:
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression, and
  • Acceptance.

Any loss can trigger the grief cycle: job loss, loss of health, death of a family member or friend, loss of a pet, loss of a home, etc. Even when we think we have prepared for the loss, we still go through the grief cycle. Often, in fact, if we know that we’re going to experience loss, we’ll go through the cycle both before and after the actual loss event.

We may go through the emotions stepwise, but frequently we’ll bounce back and forth between emotions, and sometimes be in two emotional states simultaneously. It may require months and often years to move through the cycle to complete acceptance. You may think you are at acceptance only to wake up the next morning in one of the other states.

Family Caregivers go through the grief cycle while caregiving, and Care Receivers also go through the grief cycle. If there are multiple family caregivers, each is going through the cycle in their own way and in their own timing. Everyone involved may be in a different place at any given time. Understanding what’s happening can be very helpful. Not understanding can be hugely frustrating.

As a Caregiver, you will not only be grieving the loss of your family member’s health and ability to care for themselves, you will also grieve the loss of your freedom and ability to get on with your life. You are dealing with a double loss. Often, Caregivers feel guilty for even thinking about the loss of their freedom and the impact on their lives and for having these natural feelings of loss. These emotions are real, natural, and honest, and must be experienced to move to acceptance.

The Care Receiver is often suffering multiple losses: health, loss of ability to care for themselves, loss of home, loss of pets, etc.

Strategies for Navigating the Grief Cycle

Recognize that the Grief Cycle is real, normal, and natural.

God designed us to grieve in times of loss. Grieving is healthy. In turn, that means that times of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression are healthy emotions. You should not feel guilty for experiencing these emotions, nor should you deny yourself the opportunity to feel them.

You must spend some time in the grief cycle to reach the state of acceptance – being able to move forward with your life. You don’t have to get to acceptance to function and to do what you need to do, but you will not be able to completely move forward until you have experienced the entire cycle. The grief cycle cannot be compressed in time – it has a timing of it’s own. You cannot force yourself to acceptance. In fact, grief avoidance can have severe physical and emotional consequences.

Having others you can safely share your feelings and emotions with is extremely important. Generally you can’t do that with the person you are caring for because you’re trying to put on a good face for them.

  • Every caregiver should be part of a support group of other caregivers. Being able to share what you are going through with others experiencing the same things is extremely healthy and healing. It will make you a more effective caregiver, and extend your ability to provide care over a longer time.
  • Every caregiver should discuss their caregiving and their health situation regularly with their own physician.
  • Find a friend, a minister, or a counselor you can visit with at regular intervals to share your feelings and struggles.

Having some personal time for prayer and meditation, as well as for rest and recreation, is vital. Enlist other family members, friends, respite care services or paid help to create personal time.

If you get stuck in any one of the grief states, reach out for help in moving forward. Depression is the greatest danger for caregivers, especially those caring for someone with dementia or brain injury. As many as half of caregivers in this area suffer clinical depression. Clinical depression is easily diagnosed and treated. Your family physician should be your first stop.


Post a Comment

<< Home