According to Wikipedia, "Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, and philosophical dimensions. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, and grief is the reaction to that loss."
Most experts recognize five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
Although people associate grief with death, this sense of loss can also affect those who are diagnosed with a debilitating, incurable disease such as Alzheimer's, and their loved ones who are suddenly faced with the difficult task of caring for them.
I went through this with both of my beloved parents.
• First you find ways to excuse their behavior and refuse to think there may be something medically related; it's all part of getting older, you say to yourself! Denial.
• You then get angry: Why me? What have we done to deserve this! We're good people! Anger.
• OK, what do we need to do to fix this? Eat healthier, exercise more? Maybe if I volunteer more at my temple…Bargaining.
• This is too overwhelming. I can't eat, I can't sleep. Please just leave me alone! Depression.
• Mom and Dad took care of me when I was little, so now it's my turn. How can I make their lives better as we face this monster that has kidnapped their brains and lost them in the labyrinth of their own mind? Acceptance.
All these stages are interchangeable and they can hit when you less expect it. It is important to recognize you are grieving the loss of your loved one, even if their physical bodies are still around. You have lost the person you knew and loved; as President Ronald Reagan put it, Alzheimer's is a long good bye. I add, it's a long painful good bye.
Don't try to deal with this by yourself. Remember that your loved one needs you to be not only physically, but mentally healthy, as this illness progresses. Find the help and support you need. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a counselor or support group. You may also find some comfort in talking to your clergy.
The Alzheimer's Association has a 24 hour hot line you can call when you feel overwhelmed: 1-800-272-3900 or alz.org.
Edie J. Adler:
Edie J. is an actress, author and advocate for people suffering from Alzheimer's. She and her husband Neal live in the Valley with their 6 dogs, 4 1/2 cats, 3 birds, 1 turtle, and a sneaky raccoon. Author's website Email the author