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How Your Grief Changes When Your Loved One Dies

It is often said that when a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease you grieve them twice. You grieve the loss of the person you once knew and then you grieve the actual, physical loss of that person when they die. While this is true, I would also add that when your loved one has Alzheimer’s, you are in a constant state of grief. You start grieving the day your loved one is diagnosed with the disease and that grief never goes away. It only evolves and changes once your loved one dies, but it will always be with you.

What grief looks like over time

In my experience, I was overwhelmed with grief during the ten years my mom lived with Alzheimer’s disease. With each new loss came fresh grief. For a long time, I thought her death would come mostly as a relief and that my grief would start to go away. Since my mom passed away almost one year ago, I have found that to not be true. My grief has only transformed into a new type of grief, a more permanent type of grief.

While I am no longer consumed with sadness at the thought of her suffering with the disease, I have only started to grieve all of the losses along the journey. When you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you don’t necessarily have time to process everything that is happening to them. You are in fight or flight mode, simply trying to deal with the next thing. Once your loved one dies, you suddenly have all of this time to process everything you and your loved one went through. You don’t just grieve their death – you grieve the entire journey.

Reflecting on my mom's Alzheimer's journey

Since my mom passed, I have been remembering a lot of things that happened throughout our ten-year journey. Things that I had totally forgotten about. As I reflect on all of these events and losses over the years, I grieve. I have also been thinking a lot more about my mom before she was ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or before she even started showing symptoms. I am missing the mom I had before she ever got sick. I am now grieving the total loss of the mom I once had, the mom who was sick, and the mom I will never have again.

But I have also found comfort in the fact that she is no longer suffering. She is at peace now. While my mom was still living, I always wanted to be with her. When I wasn’t with her, it was all I could think about. Where was she? What was she doing? When could I go see her again? Now that she has passed, I don’t have to go anywhere to be with her. She is always with me. She is always in my heart. And there is some healing power in that.

When caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, your grief will always be with you. It will evolve and change, but it will never completely go away. The good news is that you will find a way to move forward with your grief in time.

Your grief will always be with you, but so will your loved one.

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