Grief and loss is a normal part of life’s journey, we all at some point in our lives experience the feelings associated with grief and loss. This can be for many different reasons and is not always associated with the loss of a loved one. A grief and loss process can be experienced with the loss of the way life was, adapting to change, losing a job, changes in friendships, changes in our close relationships and an imagined future that might not come to be as a few examples.
When we talk about grief and loss it can be helpful to acknowledge the potential it gives us for new experiences, remembrance of old ones, for new growth and in the case of major life changes for the opportunity to discover and express new aspects of ourselves. When we look at any big change or life impact where we have been through a grief and loss process we might see that we have been transformed by it in some way. That we are different because of it, it has contributed to our life experience and who we are as individuals and in relation with others. When we let go of things, there is room for something new. This is not to undermine or take away the reality of the depth of feelings experienced in a grief and loss process.
It is important to acknowledge your new reality – bringing acceptance to how things actually are. It is then that we can truly get in touch with how we are feeling, and when we do this, we can start to heal. Although it is important to acknowledge and fully feel what it is we have lost, it is also important to remember and acknowledge what we still have and what we can develop. Identifying what is the same can also help with the grief and loss process. The support of a qualified counsellor can help greatly.
Fears associated with myths and stigmas of dementia can exacerbate feelings of grief and loss, sometimes the future may not be what we think it will be. There is a lot of information about dementia that will not be helpful. We can fear something what hasn’t even necessarily happened and may never happen. It’s important to gain clarity about some of these stigmas and myths. Talking with someone who understands dementia in a holistic person-centred way can help a great deal.
It can be helpful for both you and your loved ones to share how you feel living with a diagnosis of dementia, how that impacts on your inner landscape, feelings and experience of life. Being open to the shared experience of your loved ones can also help. Open communication can be really helpful with the grief and loss process. The impacts of dementia on the brain however severe don’t equal a loss of emotion or a lived experience, it’s important to keep connecting through relationships and, empathy and sharing.
Alzheimer’s WA offers short term dementia specific counselling and support to people with a diagnosis and their carers. This service can be offered in one-to-one and group counselling sessions delivered by counsellors with experience in dementia. Due to the transitional nature of dementia you can reconnect to the specialised knowledge and understanding we provide if new challenges arise. Alzheimer’s WA services are fully funded by the government and free of charge.
Loss and Grief Related To Dementia
Prescriptive and limited narratives that society projects about loss and grief can often be very unhelpful to a person who is grieving and can leave them feeling invalidated, thus isolated and “stuck”. These could be in the form of comments that people make that aren’t helpful such as; “they have had a good life”, “he looks fine, are you sure he as dementia?”, “you’re lucky she’s still alive”, “I forget things as well”, “we all get forgetful as we get older”, “have you tried……?”, “do you think you are over-reacting?” The journey of loss is different for everyone and what some may find helpful, others may not find helpful at all. Grief and loss is not linear nor defined by time.
There will be differences within the way families, and individuals within families, experience loss and grief and these may be influenced by personal, cultural and religious aspects of someone’s life.
The elements of grief depend on:
- The nature of the relationship
- The type of loss (dementia, death, divorce)
- The preparedness for the loss
- The other losses that occur with that loss (loss of hopes and dreams, future together, finances, etc.)
- Presence of past loss and grief experiences
- The support they receive from others
Expressing your feelings with someone you trust and whom is able to support you is really important. Suppression of your feelings can lead to momentary relief, allowing yourself to feel your feelings can lead to more permanent relief.