Losing a spouse is devastating for people of any age. The pain is even worse when the surviving partner is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But, before you can help a person with Alzheimer’s cope with the loss of a loved one, it’s important to understand how the grieving process works and the various stages of grief individuals typically experience. Let’s look at this important topic.
The Five Stages of Mourning
The first researcher to describe the five phases of grief was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the late 1960s. Here’s some information about what she discovered.
- Shock/denial - the first reaction most people have to the news of a death is disbelief. This is especially the case when the passing is sudden or unexpected.
- Anger - many people feel helpless in the face of death. One way to combat helplessness is to get angry. This gives the brain a way to focus its energies while it prepares the person for the later stages.
- Bargaining/Guilt - this stage shows up most often when people receive distressing news about themselves. But it can also occur when learning about the death of a loved one. This stage is often an attempt to rewind the clock and correct for past mistakes or character failings.
- Depression - The brain may defend itself against emotional distress by slowing, or depressing, the thought process. This allows the person to process her feelings and accept bad news. Depression is normal and even healthy in most cases. However, it’s best to contact a medical professional if this phase goes on for more than few months or if the surviving party is thinking of harming herself or others.
- Acceptance - The survivor emerges on the other side of the grief with the strength to continue her life.
During any of these stages the mourner may say things that are hurtful or irrational, especially if they are suffering from Alzheimer’s-related dementia. If this happens, then don’t take the comments as an insult. There’s often a radical disconnect between the words that come out of people’s mouths and what’s actually going on in their mind. This problem worsens when the mourner is suffering from cognitive decline.Accept this symptom as a fact of life and show your loved one the patience and understanding she needs. This is the best way you can help her reach final acceptance.
Please note: these five stages are general guides to help you understand the mindset of a grieving person. The individual may return to an earlier phase after passing through it more than once. She may also express emotions typical of two or more stages at the same time. For example, she may feel depressed about the loss while also showing anger towards herself. The effects of Alzheimer’s can worsen the problems. Dealing with someone who has this disease can also exhaust your mental and emotional reserves. If this happens, then it’s vital that you take time for yourself. Go for a walk, join a support group, or ask a trusted acquaintance to temporarily assume your caregiving duties.
In the end there are no easy answers to the problem of grief. The best you can do is stand by your loved one during the dark days ahead. You can never take away her pain. But you can help her to bear it; and that could make all the difference in the world.
Article written by Lucille Rosetti, Author of “Life After Death: A Wellness Guide for the Bereaved” which you can purchase in spring of 2018 here: http://thebereaved.org/book/
*Picture above by Pixaby