One of the most difficult and complex things one will ever do in life is be a caregiver for a terminally ill loved one. In my case, it was never a question of if Annie was going to die, but when. As a caregiver, the burden that we carry is almost too much to bear at times. Annie and I won every battle we fought, and there were many. But, in the end we lost the war. It’s heartbreaking having to watch a woman you adore, so independent and strong be ravaged by a savage cancer. That quickly pulls life into perspective, and we soon learn to appreciate and cherish every day we have with our loved one, regardless of how bad the day is.
Always remember, a good day for your loved one may be a bad day for you. Your day may start out with you carrying around a heart filled with pain as the end draws nearer, and your loved one is simply happy because their still alive. They can still see, they can touch, they can smell, and yes they can still love. So we adjust our mood to theirs, and give them what they deserve and need. A good day! As caregivers, even when staring such adversity in the face, we can’t deny them that. In my case I had the rest of my life to heal, while she was losing hers. And once the final bell tolls, the true grief begin. The rest of this story was from a journal I wrote 2 years after Annie died, and was not only my take on grief, but part of the healing process.
What is grief?
In my opinion, grief is a part of our body’s self-defense mechanism that allows potentially harmful feelings of sorrow to leave our body. Anytime our body is overwhelmed with sorrow grief gives us an emotional release, thus expressing our feelings, most often through our tears. In many cases we stay in touch with our loved one by looking at pictures, reading old notes, remembering the good times, sharing in our laughter, playing our favorite music, and whatever else we shared and enjoyed in life together.
My grief was driven by the love I shared with my wife Annie. And I do believe, the more we love, the more we lose, which equals a much longer and more difficult journey through our grief. Some folks never get over their grief, but thanks to our body’s resilience, we learn to get through it. In theory, the loss of a loved one can create a darkness that penetrates our soul, which becomes a measuring stick for our grief. As the darkness slowly departs from our body a wonderful thing happens. Our grief starts to dissipate, and we can feel ourselves stepping out into the light. What I found amazing and unexpected was I had a strong sense that Annie stepped out into the light with me. So I realized it wasn’t Annie that was keeping me in the darkness, it was me. We all know our loved ones would certainly not want us to be sad, so why are we. Simply put, we loved and we lost. But in the end, although things can never be the same, we get better and once again find our purpose in life.
Breaking down grief
It’s important to understand when you first started to grieve. The reason is simple. I started my journey with grief the day Annie received her diagnosis/prognosis. I was told privately that Annie would not survive her cancer. So it follows that at some point prior to a loved one’s death, depending on the circumstances of the death (how quickly the death occurred), grief will be firmly entrenched in your emotions and actions at the end of the journey.
Can we control our grief?
Under certain circumstances we can, and in my case, I had to. Annie was terminally ill, and grieving in her own way. So it was important for her that I stuff my grief while she was grieving and fighting cancer. It wasn’t easy, but it came with the understanding that our journey was about her, and not me.
Here’s a tip: If you need a good emotional release as I did at times, just find a quiet place away from your loved one, and let your emotions come flooding out. It won’t take long, and when you rejoin your loved one you’ll be more composed, focused and able to help out.
As Annie’s caregiver husband, I had a ringside seat to everything that was going on. I instinctively knew that if I showed signs of weakness through my grief, it would allow her to become insecure, which is an emotion or fear that she didn’t need while fighting her battle. And it would make her weaker in the long run. So here’s the answer to the question about how long you’ve been grieving. This is what happened to me. For the most part, but not always, I stuffed my grief for 30 months while she was fighting her disease. When she died, the old theory that I’d been grieving for 30 months, so my grief should be light, went sailing out the window. It was more like an explosion of emotions, that my mind couldn’t digest, but there was nowhere else for them to go. I can tell you, that’s not a good place to be. The pain was immense and it felt like the life was being sucked out of me. I just kept saying over and over, “I want her back.” And that was just the beginning of my 24 month nightmare. Yes, that’s how long it took for me to feel half way sane again. Having said that, I do know that everyone grieves differently and that there is no time limit on grief.
Grief & mind games
In the beginning, grief is like a mind game and will literally make you reflect back to things or events that you’d rather not think about. It seemed to me that the more traumatic the event was the more I focused on it. And that’s something I tried to avoid as much as possible, but grief is strong and it will fight back. Grief is so deceptive that it will try to convince you of things or events that you know were not true and perhaps didn’t even happen. What I’m saying is, grief will disrupt your thought process, and it can be a real battle at times to maintain control.
What I came to understand while fighting grief
It is very deceptive, but less complicated when we start paying attention to our feelings. It’s truly a state of being and what you are feeling in grief is quite simply your way of dealing with your memories. I found that sometimes my memories didn’t always set well with family and friends, as they just wanted me to move on. And that’s okay, but remember, they are your memories and no one can take them from you. Also, it’s important to understand that most family and friends have no personal idea how you’re feeling, as they are not you. Stay the course with your grief, and move forward at your own pace. In the end you’ll be glad you did. Healing takes time, and can’t be rushed. If you need help with your grief, I can be contacted via email at email@example.com I will help you through your grief if need be.