Respecting Caregiver Grief

Grieving the Gradual Loss of a Parent

caregiver grief for elderly parentsIt’s not unusual for people to minimize caregiver grief when they hear someone talk about the sadness they feel as they witness the decline of an elderly parent.

My dear friend Kathy called to tell me that her mother had suffered a stroke. She said, “People keep telling me I’m lucky because my mother is 93 and I’ve had her so long. But I don’t feel lucky. I feel scared and sad, and I’m worried about her and my dad. She’s confused and frightened, and she can’t even write her name now. She keeps saying, ‘I don’t understand what’s happening.’ She gets mad when we try to explain things to her. I know we’re going into a different phase. I know she’s old. But I don’t want to lose her!”

Kathy’s comment made me think of something I heard years ago. Dr. Virginia Tyler, a grief counselor with Evergreen Hospice in Albany, Oregon said, “People ask if it’s harder to lose a child, a spouse or a parent. I always tell them here is no richter scale for grief. When we are losing someone we love, we hurt as much as it is possible to hurt.”

I have to admit that I haven’t always felt that the loss of someone who is in his/her 90’s is a tragedy. But listening to my friend Kathy made me realize how important it is to not minimize anyone’s grief or loss. While it’s true that up until now, my friend and her mother have been luckier than most, that doesn’t take away from the pain she is experiencing right now or what it will be like for her when her mother dies. Loving relationships don’t have expiration dates, and if we want to support our friends, we need to allow them to express their grief without trying to talk them out of it or make if feel smaller than it is.