We live in a culture that strongly associates grief with death. So, if no one has died, there is no reason to grieve. But is that fact or fiction? There are many situational losses that people experience and grieve that are not death-related. In fact, it is widely acknowledged in the dementia literature that caregivers grieve the loss of a family member not to death, but rather to illness. There is even a scale called The Meuser Marwit Caregiver Grief Inventory to assess the grief. This also holds true for caregivers dealing with other progressive serious illnesses.
In my book Keeping It Together: How to Cope as a Family Caregiver without Losing Your Sanity, I talk about and illustrate the emotional whirlwind and the gamut of emotions that can be experienced whether you are depressed, stressed or in grief.
In addition to disenfranchising grief that is not death-related, another reason for caregiver grief to get overlooked is that the presenting emotions resemble stressand especially depression. If grief, stress, and depression were friends, grief would be in the shadows. Put another way: If grief, stress, and depression were siblings, stress and depression would get most of the attention. Is there validity in this metaphoric viewpoint?
Although depression, stress and grief present similarly, treatment depends on how the emotional whirlwind gets assessed. If you are diagnosed with depression or stress, often the treatment involves medication such as an anti-depressant. As a quick fix, medication may assist but it does not address the embedded grief.
The only cure for grief is to grieve ~ Dr. E. Grollman
Grieving involves facing the losses and reality. Going through the anguish and coming out the other end offers worthwhile benefits including relief, truth, peace, and calm. In Keeping It Together, you receive guidance in the comfort of your own home with practice exercises to assist in processing the losses and grief stemming from your family member’s illness. You are shown how to apply the 3-A tool to help you cope and prevent burnout. Additional supports from family, friends or a counsellor are recommended to assist in making it easier. If you have recently been through a crisis or trauma, do not proceed into grief processing on your own. Seek out professional assistance as required.
So if you assess feeling depressed or stressed, you may also consider “Could this be grief?”
Blog Post written by: Eleanor Silverberg, BA Psych, MSW
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