Grieving is a personal process, especially during the holidays

Montrose Daily Press [December 24, 2017] Kathryn R. Burke

One year ago, four days before Christmas, my world fell apart. My husband’s illness had escalated to the point where I could no longer manage at home; we both wound up in the hospital. They sent me home and him to a nursing home—an inevitable one-way journey, but still one we were not prepared for. Nobody is, really.

A new kind of grieving began. Grief for separation, for loss of the familiar, and fear of the future. Grief for what had been and could never be again. It was a difficult Christmas. We were fortunate to live near the facility, so I could—literally—run back and forth and visit frequently. I picked him up and took him to church, out to lunch, and to the park. But I couldn’t be with him all the time, like we had been for nearly 30 years.

It hurt emotionally, psychologically, and physically. I took on more work to pay our own caregivers to augment his care. Facility staff was unfamiliar with his disease—Lewy Body Dementia with Parkinson’s, and thus, ill-equipped to manage it. He was a vet, but the home-care benefits stopped when he stopped living at home. So, I had to work harder and became even more exhausted. Looking back, I have absolutely no clue how I managed to do it all.

Christmas was odd last year. Not familiar or cozy. Not joyous. It was scary and painful. We spent as much time together as we could. We reminisced, looked at slides, and browsed photo albums of Christmases past. But you can’t go back. And we didn’t see how we could go forward either.

He died in April. I’m still getting used to it.

This Christmas it’s just me and our cat. Still living near the facility. Every time I drive by, or hear a siren, tears blur my eyes. When I see the neighborhood Christmas lights, I feel sad. When I go to a Christmas concert at the church, I start to sniffle and cry. Fennie (our cat) and I eat by candelight; his place is empty. We sit by a fire after supper, listening to music—me in my chair, she in his. But he isn’t there to cuddle her. I decorated the house, put up the tree—Fennie only tried to climb it once; her heart wasn’t in it this year. We left some of his train books and railroad mementos scattered around—part of the décor. Next year, they may not be so prominent. This year, it helps keep him closer.

So, yes, I am grieving a loss, but also grateful for it. His quality of life was so sad. He just wanted to get out and move on. And so he did. He’s gone, and I’m getting on with my life, adjusting to an ‘after-caregiving’ mode. I can’t go back. But I can go forward.

I’m alone, but not really lonely. I’m tired a lot, but no longer exhausted. Personal health issues put on hold for several years caught up with me. I just had surgery last week, and he isn’t here to hold my hand and offer comfort, as we both did for one another for so long. But, I’ll manage.

I miss him.

Grieving is such a personal process. Everybody does it differently. And, it is especially intense at holiday time, a traditional family time. It’s like a maze. You have to find your way through it and out the other side. I’m still a little lost, but I know I’ll find my way out.

Kathryn R. Burke is the author of the Caregiver’s Journey books and facilitator of Western Colorado Lewy Body, Alzheimer’s and  Dementia Caregivers Support Group, meeting twice-monthly  at Montrose Hospital. [Details here] Burke is the author of the Caregiver’s Journey series, Navigating the Path, and Building Your Care Team, and The Caregiver’s Cookbook.  All three are  books available here.