Someone once said that aging is a narcissistic wound, meaning that the changes and losses that come with aging—our own or someone’s we love—affect us deeply in ways that are sometimes hard to deal with. This doesn’t mean that there are not positive parts to aging, but when we experience these losses, we sometimes need to stop and reflect on them. Many losses are subtle or ambiguous.
And even if a loved one is still with us, we may experience grief and loss as the person we care for loses the ability to do things. These losses along the way need to be grieved much like a death needs to be grieved. At the same time, we might be experiencing some of our own losses due to not working, aging and caregiving.
Some of the losses that come with age include: someone to listen to us; friendship/companionship; independence/autonomy; freedom; health; lifestyle; money; identity (particularly from a career); self esteem; beauty/body image; dignity; home; driving; memory; future; faith/hope; community; hobbies/sports/pastimes; sex; senses—particularly hearing, vision and taste; pleasures; pets.
Sometimes we deal with grief/sadness by over or undereating or sleeping, crying, talking with friends or professionals, over or underworking, over-consumption of alcohol or other drugs. In order to take care of ourselves, we often need to think of ways that we can nurture ourselves, especially during a time of grief. In fact, creating a time to grieve may be the most important thing we can do.
One way to help yourself is to do something different, often by yourself, just for yourself. Taking a break (utilizing respite care), going on a trip, taking a walk—particularly in nature—gardening, exercise (for some people sports are a way to work problems out). Being very kind to yourself, such as getting a massage, facial, pedicure or manicure can be soothing. Prayer/meditation, reading, art and dance can help. Cuddling your pet can be just what is needed to feel connected. Getting together with friends, family or religious communities can help immensely.
Sometimes, when caregiving takes over our lives, we forget to take care of our health. Making an appointment with your doctor might be just what is needed.
If you feel depressed, stop and pay attention: This is our body’s way of saying we need to do something. Learning to say no and setting boundaries helps us to feel more in control. Don’t forget to do things that bring pleasure, including sex. Listen to music, see a movie, laugh, cry.
Professional help is available when other coping mechanisms are not working. Make a list of what works for you and keep it handy so you can refer to it when you are having a hard time. Here in the Bay Area, FCA provides short-term counseling for caregivers to help deal with caregiving issues.
Grief over your losses is a natural and understandable part of caregiving. It is important to pay attention and feel the feelings. Then we can begin to heal.