Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Seven Faces of Grief

Grief is a very real thing. I only say this because experiencing it through Gregory's death, has allowed me the time to notice and think about it. It is real. It is a process. It unfolds and realizes itself in its own way, not really under the control of the person grieving. It never resolves although it does become easier.

It not only has emotional but also very real physical and bodily function effects. Not only does Grief make you feel sad but it also affects your energy, your appetite (in how you enjoy or digest your meals,)  your gut (in nervous stomach and toileting,) and whether or how well you sleep.

Grief seems to have a mind of its own in when and how it visits. A blooming flower, a song on the radio, an item in the grocery store can all be triggers to grief expressing itself. Sometimes Grief visits you at the level of a "suggestion or hint," sometimes in a wave that quickly disappears, sometimes in a torrent that seems like it will never end its flooding.

Lately I have learned to sit with Grief and accept the lessons it can teach me. It is painful to closely look at or accept Grief but pushing it away only makes it worse. So I allow myself times to grieve, but not for long periods of time!

At other times I thank Grief on its arrival but tell it that I do not want a visit right now. Usually, Grief will respect the timing and my request and will leave me alone for the time being. I remember to invite it back at a later date and welcome it then. Trying to forget or suppressing Grief only makes it worse when it finally does break through your defenses.

As I began sitting with and taking a closer look at Grief when it visited, I noticed that there seems to be at least seven types of Grief that one encounters: 1) Grief with the permanence of loss, 2) Grief in missing the past, 3) Grief on not being able to remember the past, 4) Grief over missed opportunities, 5) Grief and fear for self in the present, 6) Grief and fear for self in the future, and finally 7) Grief with the Mystery of Death itself.

1️⃣ PERMANENCE OF LOSS: Missing Gregory is big. We will never again hold each other, or kiss, or enjoy an experience together. I will only hear his laughter in my memory. I will only appreciate his creativity and talents in photos of things he accomplished and not as he executes them.

He is no longer an interactive, physical part of my life. I miss holding his hand. I miss our talks and our love making. I miss hearing him play his grand piano. I miss having someone to lean on when sad and with whom to make decisions. I cry over the "never agains!"

2️⃣ PAST MEMORIES: Memories of times past remind me that he is gone. Often instead of fond memories making me feel better, they make me sad. They bring on tears at best and sobbing and keening at worst. I am told this gets better over time, and it seems to be doing so, but still the overwhelming grief continues to visit at unexpected times.

3️⃣ MEMORIES LOST: Time goes so quickly. It has been 41+ years since I first met Gregory and while I still have memories of much of our time together, there are so many that no longer hold office in my mind.

This is the nature of growing older and in having had a long term love relationship but now that Gregory is dead, the grief seems to allow me to spend more time realizing all the memories that no longer are clear, if they even still exist, and without the hope of inquiring to amplify them or find out the truth.

4️⃣ MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: The mind begins to wonder about things I could or should have done more of, done better, or done in the first place. I am sad about the times I neglected to tell him how much I loved him and how important he was to me or the times we argued or when I was mean to him. I feel so bad that I wasn't as good to him as I could have been as we worked through many of the Dementia/ Alzheimer's bumps, pot holes, and turns in the road.

I realize that now that I know "how it all ends," it is easier to criticize my actions of the past but in reality when you are in the throws of day to day dealing with life, let alone Dementia/ Alzheimer's, your behaviors are the best ones you can muster at the time. I also need to take the time to remember all the things I did well, the ability to apologize immediately when I acted poorly, and Gregory's compassionate loving acceptance of me no matter what.

5️⃣ PRESENT: Grief also finds its way in as I try to rediscover how to spend my days without having Gregory here to share my life (like in the earlier days before Dementia/ Alzheimer's) or having Gregory to care for and to be the center of my life (while he continued to loose language, cognitive, physical and other abilities,) and finally when he moved into the memory care facility (now with a great support team but my still spending a lot of time involved.)

At times it still is difficult to fill my days after having shopped, put groceries away, cleaned the condo, made dinner, watched a few TV shows, read for a while ... only finding it is just 7:00 and I am ready to end my day. But who wants to or is able to go to sleep so early? Also, doing all these things by oneself when used to having a partner with which to do them is lonely.

6️⃣ FUTURE: Grief arrives when I realize I am 70 years old. Feel young but none-the-less am getting older. What will it be like to grow older alone? How brave will I be to travel the world by myself? What will my life be like as I slow down? Who will take care of me when I need help? What will become of me if I can no longer make good decisions for myself. I have trusted my "next in line" trustees for my protection, I love them dearly, in fact I trust them with my life (literally!) but still Fear of the Future is real.

A lot more fear could creep in, especially seeing what Gregory went through for so long, but I try to keep optimistic, and positive; and I am able to keep the worries at bay. I remember that with Gregory's illness, so many fears that I had never materialized so I needn't have worried. I also realized that spending energy on "working at not worrying" is as bad as the worrying itself. Big waste of time and energy for both!

7️⃣ MYSTERY OF DEATH: The last, but not necessarily the least important, is the grief of wondering what Death is all about. Of course Death is all around us but when it comes so close, courtesy of one you love so dearly, the mystery magnifies. In many ways I cannot really picture myself dead, and that is part of the Mystery.

I believe there is something after and that gives me a little consolation. But where is Gregory? What is his time like now? Can he see me or hear me? What makes up  a life when it seems to end to easily? Where do all those skills, abilities, and talents go when all is said and done? What is the bigger picture of Life and Death?

Gregory and I had opposing views of the process of death. I used to think that as I was dying and my soul/spirit was leaving my body I would look back and say, "Ah, now I understand!" Gregory's view was that he would look back and say, "Ah, more questions!"

• • •

As I am writing my views about Grief, I am celebrating the fifth month anniversary, almost to the day, of Gregory's passing. I am less bereft, cry less, feel less depressed. I am better able to spend my time, better able to be alone, better able to speak to and learn from my emotions and my Grief, better able to brave the future, better able to slowly let joy back into my life.

I have worked at reinventing a physical relationship with Gregory; not bodily, but through talking to him, imagining his replies, setting up a shrine with his photograph and items he cared for, revisiting photographs of past vacations and adventures, imagine I am enjoying things for both of us when I visit the the Botanic Garden or go to the Opera.

I have created ways to make my life meaningful, to be of service to others, to give back. I have made financial contributions, supported others in need, helps establish the More Than Ever Education Fund in Gregory's and my name, continue my blog writing with many followers, promote the documentary "Alzheimer's: A Love Story," and still hope to publish my memoirs with the hope that many of Gregory's and my lessons will help others know they are not alone on the path of Dementia/ Alzheimer's. 

The hole which was torn in my chest by Gregory's Dementia/ Alzheimer's and by his death is still there. It is the sacred place where we can still be together. When he died, I felt like his soul/spirit began to that hole so we could heal together. It has been working. The pain of Grief never goes away but it does get easier.


  1. Oh, that Lost Opportunities will become dim Memories as you reflect on your life as Story and True Memories will reveal themselves to you.

    1. What I think what will come to light is that many of the triggers of grief are erroneous. I think that we will see more good than bad, more compassion than meanness, and even more love then we believed we were capable of. Thanks Jean for your usually insightful comments.

  2. Beautifully articulated. Deeply felt. Compassionate guidance.


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