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Published November 02, 2013, 07:09 PM

Minding Our Elders: Caregiving daughter faces depression after mom’s death

DEAR CAROL: I was my mother’s full-time caregiver since her massive stroke six years ago. Though many people felt she didn’t have a full life, I know that because of my caring for her she lived as well as possible. We did things together inside our home and out in the community.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: I was my mother’s full-time caregiver since her massive stroke six years ago. Though many people felt she didn’t have a full life, I know that because of my caring for her she lived as well as possible. We did things together inside our home and out in the community.

A month ago Mom suddenly had another massive stroke and died. There’s some peace in knowing that she’s with God, but I find myself at a loss as to how to go on with my life. I miss her presence every minute.

How do caregivers overcome the depression they feel when their loved one, who has been so much of their life, dies? Fran

DEAR FRAN: Your mother is still with you in spirit though your grief may be too fresh to completely feel her presence. She died knowing what you did for her and she appreciated it whether or not she could express it.

Take life moment by moment. Breathe deeply and consciously. Then take on one project, even if it’s simply straightening up a room. Work slowly and don’t expect too much from yourself at first. You will likely experience waves of grief and need to deal with them as they come, but eventually you should be able to experience some satisfaction in your life.

Since you have a spiritual connection, ask for God’s help daily in whatever way works for you. Spiritual leaders and professional grief counselors can be helpful, as well, so please make use of these resources.

Some people find it helpful to work at a project in the name of their loved one. Whether you volunteer for a heart health event or simply donate money in your mother’s name, you may feel that you are becoming part of something bigger than you both.

In time you may see the wisdom of journaling and/or writing out a gratitude list. To get you started on a gratitude list, think of how much caring for your mother meant to you and list that as number one. Second on the list could be that you are grateful that she is no longer suffering with a disintegrating body. As time goes on, you’ll think of other things you are grateful for. Adjusting your attitude by doing this exercise can be exceptionally healing.

You may have moments of deep grief even after long periods of normalcy. In my case, a memorable moment came two years after my mother died, when I was simply walking down a hallway at work. Out of nowhere, a wave of grief and loss washed over me so powerfully that I literally stopped in my tracks. Fortunately, the feeling was short-lived. This kind of experience is not uncommon. You may want to brace yourself for such moments knowing that they can sneak up on you. This doesn’t mean you aren’t healing. It simply means that you never forget the people you love. Everyone grieves differently, Fran. You’ll find your way out of the darkness and make your mother proud and happy by moving forward in your life.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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