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Helping Your Loved
Deal with Losses
It helps to keep in mind that it isn't just how
your care-receiver is feeling; it's what he or she is feeling. Quite
often, it's a tremendous sense of loss.
In so many areas.
The process of aging is also a process of
letting go. Bit by bit. It's losing so many things and being forced to
accept the fact that many of them if not most will never be replaced.
True, life is filled with losses. But that
doesn't mean how we feel a particular loss is the same at all the
different stages of our lives.
Here are three examples:
● A tooth: If I'm 5 years old and my
front tooth starts to wiggle, this is great news! I can hardly wait to
show everyone. This proves I'm on my way to getting rid of my baby
teeth—and at five, I am no baby! —and having "big
kid" teeth. It means the tooth fairy will be stopping by some
night soon and I'll get money!
If I'm elderly and my tooth begins to wiggle,
if it aches, if my gums become inflamed . . . . I wonder what it
means. Where is it leading? Expensive and painful dental work?
Dentures? A change in my diet, to soft, boiled, mushy food? Maybe it
would be best just to ignore it. Maybe the pain will go away. There's
no need to worry others, not to mention the expense. I'm so tired of
trips to the doctor, I don't want to add visits to the dentist.
● A set of keys: If I'm 25 and I lose
my keys, I mutter and fuss and fume because I might be late for work.
Again. "Now where could I have put them? I'm always losing my
keys." It's a minor inconvenience.
If I'm a senior and I misplace my keys, I
can't help worrying that I'm exhibiting an early stage of Alzheimer's.
Isn't this how it starts with some people? Like my sister-in-law. The
one who could never seem to remember where she had parked her car in
the mall lot and then, within a couple of years . . . .
● A friend: If I'm forty-five and a
close friend moves away, I feel sad. I miss having frequent contact
with that person and I suspect, as the years go by, we may drift
apart. But I know I can pick up the phone and call him. I can send him
a funny birthday card. I can drop him a line at Christmas and keep him
up to date on what I've been doing. In the same way, he can stay in
touch with me and share his latest adventures.
If I'm old and a good friend dies—and so
many seem to be dying so close together these days—it's the end of
our friendship. I can remember the good times and I can offer a prayer
for his soul, but he is gone. I know there will never be another like
him. Perhaps this was a relationship that stretched back to my youth.
Someone who really knew me and understood what, together, we had come
through. I have lost someone irreplaceable. And it hurts so much.
As any human body ages, there are adjustments
that have to be made, limits that have to be admitted. When I am young
and strong, I can go mountain climbing. I can scale snowy peaks and
look out on fantastic views and feel a tremendous sense of
accomplishment. As I get older, I have to limit myself to hiking.
Then walks through the park.
Around the neighborhood.
Until, finally, it may be that simply leaving
the house takes more energy and effort than I am able to exert.
Step by step, I have told myself,
"That's all right. I can still . . . . " But what now? What
can I do? If I cannot climb a flight of stairs? If I cannot cross a
room by myself? If I cannot get out of bed?
When, in my heart, I still want to be at the
top of that mountain.
As a caregiver, what you discover is that as
your parent gets older, the physical limitations can be compounded and
the problems, the losses, occur more frequently. For example, he or
she may experience diminishing or total loss of vision. Of hearing.
The inability to control the bladder.
Now your father may think, "Here is my
child trying to tactfully explain to me that I should wear . . .
diapers! That's what they are. They may have a different name, but
that's what they are. Even my grandchildren are old enough that they
no longer wear diapers. This is so humiliating."
Or "A hearing aid! I don't need a
hearing aid. If young people today would just quit mumbling and speak
Or "No, I'm not going to the eye doctor.
Every time I go he gives me more bad news and my eyesight is just
It may help you to also keep it in mind, that
as Mom ages and becomes unable to perform the everyday tasks she used
to love, she may feel she is losing a part of her identity. Your
mother is no longer the "super housekeeper" with a spotless
home. Her yard is no longer the prettiest one on the block. She can no
longer bring her famous scalloped potatoes to family gatherings.
And if she isn't that great housekeeper,
gardener or cook, what is she? Who is she?
At the same time, with the absolute best of
intentions, a grown son or daughter may seem to be taking over. Being
downright pushy, is what it feels like to Dad. "You think it's
not safe for me to drive anymore! Just who do you think it was that
"You think I need help writing checks?
Why, I was a vice president in one of the largest corporations in . .
"They make me so mad sometimes," a
parent may think, "but what if I don't go along with them? Will
they put me in a nursing home? Is there some kind of veiled threat
"No!" you may immediately reply,
but, again, this has to do with feelings. And feelings can be based on
There are other losses, of course. Among the
most difficult is the death of an adult child. That one just doesn't
seem right. Children are supposed to outlive their parents.
And probably the biggest loss of all is the
death of a spouse.
"This was my best friend, my lover, my
confidant, my partner, my support in so many ways for so many years
and now that person is gone. Now I need him . . . now I need her . . .
more than I ever did before, because I've never felt pain and
loneliness like this."
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