"Grief starts when the person who takes care of a loved one begins to experience loss," says Carilyn Ellis, PhD, in a seminar for Certified Senior Advisors entitled "The Long Goodbye: Grief and Caregiver Stress in End of Life Care."
Losses mount over time, Ellis says. And these impact body, mind and soul. Often a caregiver will experience idiopathic (physical) symptoms such as headaches, backaches or insomnia that seem to spring up suddenly without any apparent reason. Grief does numbers on our physical bodies.
That's not all. Caregivers, whether you or your parent, tend to lose social networks as the caregiving role spirals and encroaches into every waking minute.
Other losses are spiritual in nature. Often caregivers ask the "Why" questions: "Why is this. happening? Where are the sources of comfort?" Grief has psychological implications, as well, as the caregiver experiences sadness and anger.
Caregivers must process the various stages of grief at specific losses: for example, the loss of roles the ill person played in the family; and the loss of companionship that this phase of life often brings.
"This 'anticipatory' grief is an ongoing process," Ellis says. "It's grief after grief."
How can we help the caregiver (either ourselves or loved ones)? Ellis gives the following advice:
ASSESS. Discover the caregiver's beliefs, values, fears, concerns.
Ask how the caregiver is feeling:
VALIDATE. Listening is one of the best gifts the caregiver can receive.
ENCOURAGE SELF-CARE through support groups and supportive friends.
What is your experience with anticipatory grief?