Grief Can Look Different For Everyone
Losing someone you love can be one of the most difficult life events you’ll ever have to deal with. It can come with tears, sadness and/or deep sorrow, and sometimes relief. When you lose them to Alzheimer's, sometimes you have to define when that loss really occurred. It was ten years of watching Dad gradually fail. For ten years, we all knew we were losing Dad. As his family, we all grieved very differently and at different times depending on who it was in my family and what their relationship was with Dad.
How my mom dealt with the grief
For Mom, it was unimaginable. She knew in her heart she was losing him, but I don’t think she ever really gave up hope, even in the really bad times, that Dad wasn’t going to recover from this. How could Mom even think of being without someone when two-thirds of her life had been spent with him? She depended on him for most things. Mom was then, and still is, a capable woman but she has never viewed herself that way. She and Dad had a traditional marriage. He was the lead. He made the decisions. I recall Mom telling me that she never had to make any important decisions in her life, Dad made them. The decisions that needed to be made for Dad were not ones she could make. After almost 65 years of marriage, how do you change that? Even over time, how do you let go? I’m not sure you can. Maybe I wouldn’t have either. Mom couldn’t, not for the years while Alzheimer's was taking him.
How my brothers dealt with the grief
My two brothers and I dealt with our grief very differently from each other. For my oldest brother, I think his grief showed up as denial; things are not that bad, Mom would say if they were, and so on. He was the one that was closest to Dad of the three of us ‘kids'. His relationship with Dad was one of sharing on so many levels. They talked about each other’s jobs. They talked about his kids. They were the first ones to have kids. They talked about friends of my brother and how they were doing in life. I can say this without any judgment or regret. My oldest brother wasn’t favoured over us, he was just closer to Dad. There was a special bond there. One that only death was able to break.
For my other brother, I think his grief may have been buried in the details: Let’s get the paperwork done, find a place for Dad to live, get him out of the house as soon as possible, pressure Mom to get moving on all of this, Dad will be fine, leave it to me, I’ll take care of it all if you can’t... My older brother and I had a lot of conversations with him to help him understand that his attempt to help wasn’t helpful to Mom. His heart was in the right place but his method was not very good for any of us. His relationship with Dad always appeared to be strained so they avoided each other over the years. I never knew until Dad died that my brother carried so much regret for how his relationship with Dad had been. We are estranged now, at least at the moment, so I can only hope he has found some peace with losing Dad.
How I dealt with the grief
For me, the grieving started long before my dad actually died. I knew what the path held, I had seen this before in the past in my work. I could silo my grief, rope it off. I could fall into a role so I didn’t have to deal with my feelings at the time. In hindsight, that wasn’t true either. My feelings were painfully out there. They just kept surfacing when I least expected it. My husband had to have the strength of Job to be there for me. And he was. What I struggle with now is that I thought I had grieved the loss of Dad over time. I haven’t. Dad passed last October. His birthday was in April, a workday for me. I was a mess. I had to keep going to my car to let out some of my grief. It’s now June; there are songs I cannot listen to, including the song I danced to with my dad at my wedding and random songs that remind me of him. I still find myself tearing up as I drive down a six-lane highway to work. It’s all been harder than I thought.
As much as we all loved the same man, our grieving has been very different.
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