This is the second in a two-part series. We’re looking at how to thrive and remain centered when a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other Dementias.
We began with the first few stages of grief; we will now look at next three stages that people commonly have to work through. These stages do not necessarily all occur, and they may not come in this order – they may even be blended. We hope that it may be helpful to recognize and name what you may be feeling, in order to work through those difficult times.
The Third stage is often called “Bargaining.” Thoughts may arise such as, “If only we had sought medical attention sooner…” or “I could have prevented this…” These thoughts – taking personal responsibility – can be extremely painful, and so it can be very helpful to know that most people experiencing grief have these thoughts and feel guilt or responsibility at some point. Healthy reflection on past decisions is healthy only if it’s used as an aid for future decisions. If there is something that can be helped or changed in the future, then reflect on those aspects. The most loving thing you can do is to shift your focus of yourself and to focus on how you can best serve your loved one going forward.
Some may find comfort in simply acknowledging the thoughts and communicating about them with a trusted friend or a pastor who can direct their thoughts towards helpful actions they can take now. Shifting the focus from self-reflection, to caring for your loved one will be most helpful thing you can do. You can do simple things with them in the present moment, like taking a walk, weeding in the garden, or cooking a meal together.
The Fourth stage is often called “Depression.” This can be accompanied by feelings such as regret at things we didn’t do or say, or a feeling of helplessness. Similar to the Bargaining stage, sometimes we may just need reassurance, or to talk to someone. For some people, it can help to find a quiet place to cry and let the emotions out. But ultimately the best thing is to get our eyes off of ourselves and to direct our attention towards our loved one. It will help to just get going and get the body moving; going for a walk or focusing on daily tasks you get to do together. Sometimes, alone time may be helpful to process these emotions, but the realities of our difficulty will not go away. Make sure that you do not use “alone time” to dwell on thing you can’t change. Again, the goal is to get our eyes of off ourselves and to be there for our loved one and serve them in their time of need
Finally, the Fifth stage is called Acceptance. This is when we finally step fully into a place of peace with the new circumstances in our lives. This is not to say that grief or sadness are over, but simply that there is a sense of moving forward, of accepting what is. Our mind settles into the new reality, and we begin to focus in a positive way on moving forward in the best way possible with things as they are. Throughout the process of moving toward acceptance, it is very helpful to keep remembering to pause, breathe, and replace our tendency for negative thoughts with helpful thoughts that move you forward. This is a difficult time, but you are not alone. Reach out to other family members, friends, members or your church family and those who have gone, or are going through the same difficult journey.
Please feel free to contact us at any time, should you have questions or wish to learn the ways in which we can help. That may be to give you resources about care, or to point you towards groups that work through difficult diagnoses together.