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Grief and mourning — dealing with loss

August 28, 2011
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center , Salem News

Grief and mourning. The loss of a loved one. The demise of a relationship. Facing your own mortality. Losing something or someone that was very important to you, not necessarily to death, but from your personal world. Let me tell you a story.

An aging woman received a diagnosis: Alzheimer's. She called her daughter to share the news that so devastated hera slow death sentence. The daughter was overwhelmed, glad that her mother was at the other end of a telephone line and couldn't see her reaction. Her mother grieved the loss of her future, something she never had anticipated. The daughter grieved the difficult journey ahead for her mother. The mother cried tears of terror. The daughter cried bitter tears. They would undertake this journey together beginning immediately. There was no time for denial.

The mother was a creative mind, an artist. She began to crochet afghans, one complicated pattern after another, to leave something physical to mark her time on earth. She crocheted love and memories into every stitch. And the daughter measured the progression of the disease by the complexity of the patterns.

"This is the most difficult pattern I have ever done," she said. When she applied those words to simple granny squares or row after row of double crochets, the daughter's heart grieved. Alzheimer's was winning the war.

When the mother could no longer take care of herself, when she was no longer in a state of safety, her children faced a difficult decision. The anger, belligerence and physical threats became uncontrolled.

"You know your mother would not want you to put your life on hold to take care of her," a friend advised.

A stranger remarked in public that she and her brothers had "dumped the old lady in the nursing home and now everything was good for them." The barbed arrow struck its mark. And then she shook it off. She knew the truth.

The daughter grieved the loss of her relationship with her mother; grieved the loss of her mother's short-term memory; mourned the loss of her mother. She continued to visit her mother, grateful that, though her mother could not remember what they talked about 30 seconds ago, she still could speak. And she still remembered her children by name. The daughter celebrated the joy of recognition at that moment when she entered her mother's field of vision which continually narrowed with the disease.

The daughter's grief was renewed, the mourning period extended with each new blow from the enemy, Alzheimer's: the gout that crippled her and the year it took to get Mom back on her feet. Restorative care at the nursing facility won that victory in the constant tug of war with Alzheimer's. The angry words, "I said I want to go to my home! I hope this happens to you one day! Then you will know how it feels!" The victory was in understanding it was the Alzheimer's, not her mother, who spoke. Her armor repelled the remarks of well-meaning friends who insisted her mother was no longer her mother. But when that twinkle of recognition lit up her mother's face, what they said couldn't be true. And that was a victory over the Alzheimer's. But she grieved because her mother still was cognizant enough to know she couldn't remember, and there was nothing she could do about it. The daughter couldn't make the Alzheimer's go away. She couldn't "fix it." It could do what it wanted and all she could do was helplessly watch the demise of her mother's mind.

The call was unexpected. Her mother was having labored breathing. Her blood pressure was 65/55. Her oxygen level was 87 percent. She was restless. Could the daughter come back and sit with her a while, even though she'd spent all afternoon there? Of course! Seven hours later, the mother drew her last breath and ceased to be.

The daughter would never hold that gentle hand again, the hand that had taken her infants into her embrace and counted every tiny finger and every tiny toe, to know they were perfectly formed. The strong hand that had guided her children through childhood and adolescence with love, respect and discipline. The warm hand that had reached out to others with compassion and loved every grandchild, every great-grandchild.

Never again would the daughter walk into her mother's range of vision and see the light of recognition start at her eyes and spread all over her. Never again would she hear her mother say, "You're my daughter. I would never trade you." Her mother had been human and made mistakes, but she had loved very hard and very deep. And shortly before she stopped being a part of this world a trickle of tears slipped from her eyes, sadness because she was leaving the family she so loved. And then she was gone. Alzheimer's may have won the war, but the mother had won a few of the battles. And the mother had remembered the names of her children until she took that last breath. And the daughter was assured that this was best for her mother. And she was comforted, though the grieving process still lay ahead of her.

Grief and mourning are natural reactions to great personal loss. The length of time for the grieving process varies. Compassionate friends and neighbors help us through those periods of our lives. Sometimes we need a little help to get back to 'normal.' When you need help, Family Recovery Center is here. Contact us at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail,



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