More than a decade ago I became my mother’s caregiver. Though she lived in an assisted living community, I had many responsibilities and, as mini strokes robbed her of memory, my responsibilities increased. From taking her to medical and dental appointments, to running errands, to going out for lunch, I did something for my mother every day.
And every day I wondered, “Will this be the day she dies?” Anticipatory grief became my constant companion.
Now I’m a caregiver again. In late October my husband’s aorta dissected and he had three emergency operations. During the third one, 13 hours of life-threatening surgery, he suffered a spinal stroke and his legs no longer support him. He was hospitalized for three months and is currently receiving physical therapy at a local nursing home. His dream is to be able to use a walker and only time will tell if his dream comes true.
Becoming a caregiver again awakened old feelings. When my husband was on the Intensive Care Unit I was sure he would die and planned his memorial service. But surgeons and nurses saved his life and he is improving steadily. Though he will probably be in a wheelchair the rest of his days, he will have a quality life.
You may be a caregiver, a family member who is responsible for the health and welfare of a loved one. Caregiving is a challenging job, so challenging it diverts you from your own life. As days become weeks and weeks become months, you feel more alone. Anticipatory grief feelings add to your aloneness. How does caregiving link you to anticipatory grief?
The fact that your loved one needs a caregiver can be shocking. You remember your loved one as a bright, independent person and now he or she needs help. Indeed, your loved one is dependent on you.
You’re witnessing the degeneration of a loved one. Thinking about my mother becoming confused, forgetful and angry still causes me pain. I never dreamed my mother would get into fist fights or steal from others, but she did. I had to accept the fact that the kind, brilliant mother of my childhood was gone forever.
If you are caring for a failing parent you may worry about role reversal. Your parent used to take care of you and now you’re taking care of your parent and it makes you uncomfortable. Arguing with your parent makes you more uncomfortable. One time, when I was walking through an airport, I saw a young man wheeling his mother in a wheelchair. The mother was complaining and the son exclaimed, “Don’t start in Ma! Don’t even start.”
Finally, you may grieve for yourself. Life is filled with new responsibilities and you have little time to deal with them. Certainly, you wouldn’t be the first caregiver to ask, “Will I survive this?” Hard as it to believe, you will survive this, and find your way. At this challenging time you’re doing your best and that’s what counts. Caregiving is an act of love.