In Grief: Helping Another While Coping With My Own Loss

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A reader writes: I really need some help. I am at a loss with things right now. Here is my issue. My partner’s dad is dying. He was hospitalized two weeks ago and put on hospice by the advice of his doctor. He has Alzheimer’s; his life is over and he is hanging on by a string. I am still mourning the death of my mother four months ago, and now here I am with my partner and his family as they are going through this themselves.

I know that every passing is different and the feelings are different, but they are really upset and I am at a loss as to how to help. I hate to see people hurting and in pain, but I am also in pain and very confused on how to handle it. Where and what to do? I am not in the family, only on the sideline.

My partner's dad is in the same hospice that took care of my mom. As you know, I had a bad experience with the care my mother received there, so now I am questioning everything they do, although I keep my concerns to myself so as not to hurt the family with my feelings. I guess my question to you is how do I handle all of this, and where is my spot so I do not overstep my bounds? I will be there for them all the way, but what if I have a moment because I have just lost my mom four months ago? Am I being selfish for even thinking that I have my mom in my head also? I went to the hospice house last night and kept myself together until I was alone in my van and they could not see me. I went home and my partner came over. After dinner he went in to my room and went to bed. I went out on the couch and watched TV and feel asleep. We did not really speak but that is okay since both of us were tired, stressed and drained.

I find myself at a loss for words again. I had just started to find myself thinking of my mom in ways other than the time she was in the hospital until she left me. This is like living her death all over again. I feel so alone here anyway with nobody to turn to. I keep everything bottled up inside and I feel as if any time now I am going to burst and that will be it. I would and could use your advice soon please.


My response: I’m so sorry you have to go through this experience all over again, coming as it does so soon after the rather difficult and traumatic time you had with your own mother in hospice.

I think the best thing you can do in this situation is simply to be there for your partner and his family, in any way that you feel comfortable.

What does that mean? It means that you really don’t have to do anything, other than to offer your presence – if and when you are able to do that. (Try to remember how you felt when your own mother was dying, and think about what others could have said or done to bring you comfort.)

You can say to your partner, for example, “Would you like me to go with you to visit your dad?” Of course, I’m not suggesting that you say this if it’s not what you are willing and able to do. In that case, you can say something like this instead: “I want to be here for you at this sad and difficult time, but my own recent and negative experiences with hospice are coloring everything I’m seeing and hearing now, and I’m finding it very hard to be in that place again so soon after my own mother’s death. It has nothing to do with you or your father or your family, and I hope you will understand.”

If you’re worried about attending another funeral if and when your partner’s father dies, you can say the very same thing. If you think you can handle going to another funeral right now, by all means give it a try—and sit in the back so you can slip out quietly without disturbing the service if you need to leave. (Tell your partner ahead of time that this is what you plan to do, and ask him not to be concerned if you do decide you have to leave. Make sure you bring your own car, so you can take yourself home if you need to leave early.) Or you can decide not to go at all. You need to do whatever it takes to take care of yourself right now, even if other people don’t like it, don’t fully understand or don’t even accept what you are feeling. You cannot help what you are feeling—you can only tune into it, try to figure out why you’re feeling that way, and then do whatever your heart and your instincts tell you is necessary to take good care of yourself. The key is to plan it all out ahead of time, to the extent that you are able.

If your partner is open to a conversation about all of this, it might be useful for you to sit down with him and have a good talk about it. Print out this message if you need to, and tell him it comes from your online grief counselor.

If you’re looking for specific ways that you can “be there” for your partner and his family, I can point you to all sorts of articles written on that topic. See, for example, all the references I’ve listed on my website’s Helping Someone Who’s Grieving page.

I hope this helps, and please know that I am thinking of you.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC

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