Note: This is part II in a two-part series about Alzheimer’s and grief
Anticipatory grief is that which often occurs when one is expecting a person to die. It typically has the same symptoms as grief after any other death. To deal with this it can be helpful to try to shift your focus from the anticipated death of the person to trying to enjoy together the time that’s remaining. It’s important to try to think of all the ways you might be able to improve the person’s quality of remaining life.
Grief When the Person Finally Dies
Grief when a loved one with dementia dies can be more difficult than that for other types of death. One reason is because the caregiver has usually already been grieving the loss of the person for years. It’s difficult to endure the seemingly endless grief.
When a person with dementia dies their loved ones typically experience the normal stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance, although these are not always experienced in the same order and not everyone goes through each stage. Some people get stuck in one stage, which can lead to complicated grief (see below).
Research has found that 72% of people who have a loved one with dementia are actually relieved when the person dies. This can lead to severe feelings of guilt. It’s important to realize that feeling relief when a person with dementia passes away is normal and that there’s no reason to feel guilty about it.
I was able to work through my grief after Ed’s death in part by writing my book, Come Back Early Today, about my 30-year relationship with him, focusing on the years when he was demented. The project started out as a way to remember Ed and honor our life together. But mid-way through the process, it became meaningful to me also as an exciting creative endeavor, helping me resolve my grief.
Complicated grief, also referred to as unresolved grief, is that which does not lessen with time, or is so intense it significantly interferes with one’s life. It may appear as major depression, lead to substance abuse, cause thoughts of suicide, or take on the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. It may also become chronic grief. Surprisingly, complicated grief may also manifest itself as a complete absence of mourning. Complicated grief usually requires professional help from a physician and/or psychotherapist.