Posts Tagged ‘grieving one’s losses’

Sometimes in the Alzheimer’s unit when we have sung the words to an old country dance tune, I will ask a resident to dance with me.  Recently, we sang “Comin’ Through the Rye,” and I danced it with a long-time resident of the unit.  Then I turned to a newer resident and asked, “Have you ever danced “Comin’ Through the Rye”?  She looked up at me, her usually bright face very sober, and said, “Yes, but with a man.”  As our eyes met, I could hear in her mind, as well as in my own, the words “…every laddie smiled at me when comin’ through the rye.”  She was very much aware of all that she had lost.

I smiled and held out my hand.  “Well, I’m wearing jeans and a cowboy hat.  We might pretend.”  With a graciousness beyond imagining, the lovely little woman took my hand and followed me in the steps of the old dance.  Despite the pain of loss, she accepted the change in her circumstances with dignity.  When I returned her to her chair, her twinkle had returned, and she smiled as she said, “Thank you.”

In Chapter Twelve of The Caregiver’s Choice, “Change with Change”, I speak of the ongoing changes that must be faced by both the patient and the caregiver, and I suggest ways of coping with loss.  But since that day of dancing, I have been startled to find myself often near tears as I remember with real sorrow some of those changes in my life:  After we left the office where my husband Arthur heard the doctor’s advice to give up driving, he stood by the passenger side of his beloved blue Chevy pickup, grey and drawn.  “It makes me feel old,” he said.  When my mother could no longer understand the notes I wrote in our wonderful exchange of ideas and humor, she looked at my final note and said, “I can read the words, but I don’t know what they mean.”

At the time I was focused on helping each of them to endure such a drastic life change.  They each had lost a source of joy.  But I too had changes to accept.  I too had lost some pleasure from my life.  We had traveled thousands of miles on rockhounding trips in one or another of Arthur’s pickups.  But I had seldom driven one of them.  Suddenly, I had to learn to drive the four-wheel drive truck and not feel pressured, while he had to learn to let me drive it and not feel critical.  The loss of communication with my mother through words was a huge change.  She had made poems and puns, played Scrabble and other word games.  Words were a bond between us.  We had exchanged letters for years.  Now I had to devise a way to reach her despite her loss of verbal ability.  I could not take time to grieve.

While, in The Caregiver’s Choice,  I have suggested some ways to endure these losses, I have not perhaps emphasized enough how important it is to be gentle with yourself as well as with your patient.  You deserve the time to absorb changes, to mourn losses, to decide how to be when so much of your world is different.  You may not be allowed huge chunks of time, but when sorrow overwhelms you, take a moment, cry a few of those tears, feel whatever you feel.  There are no rules.  These several years later, I am granting myself those moments for tears that I didn’t shed then.  But ultimately, I hope I will learn from the lady in the Alzheimer’s unit who showed such grace in accepting a change in partners and simply allowed herself the pleasure of the dance.


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