Grief. It makes some people uncomfortable. According to the In the June 23, 2021, Advocate for Mom and Dad article: How To Help Somebody You Love Through Grief by Kate Romeo, when people don’t know how to deal with an uncomfortable situation, they often just don’t. Instead, they may shy away from the opportunity and simply let the other grieve alone in silence. This is not heathy—not for the person who is grieving, nor for the person who is avoiding their own discomfort. To help someone you love through grief, Romeo recommends the following:
- Understand the Grieving Process. Acknowledge that everyone deserves to process their grief in a healthy way.
- Think About What To Say To a Grieving Loved One. Be prepared to acknowledge the individual by listening to the bereaved one talk about their loved one’s passing—or even sit in silence with them while they process their emotions. Don’t be afraid to express your concerns and emotions, as well.
- Offer Some Help and Support Them. Demonstrate your continued support by helping out during the difficult times when their functioning may be limited.
- Watch For Signs of Depression. Be on the alert for difficulty functioning with daily life, a proclivity to focus on death, and even evidence of hallucinations.
What to Do about Mama? Excerpts about grief.
Death and dying is one of the most difficult passages we travel with our loved ones. There may be a lot of “self-help” books out there, but no “instructions,” per se. When you discuss the topic with other people, it becomes apparent that the differences in how people perceive end-of-life issues are vast. Everyone has his or her own values and beliefs (based on their unique life experiences), and emotions can run quite high.
From Jenna’s Story:
However, toward the end it was my siblings and I who supported my mother’s physical health and my father’s emotional health, as his anticipatory grief was larger than I think even he realized.
In addition, I found that being able to talk about my mother was so very important. Oftentimes, when someone dies, no one wants to mention the person’s name to the close family members who are grieving. Even to this day—three years later—this still happens. But, I find that being able to share stories about her makes me feel better.
From Amelia’s Story:
People feel uncomfortable saying anything, so no one really expresses what they want or don’t want. Maybe they worry about hurting feelings; maybe it’s too emotionally painful to make difficult decisions. People think it won’t happen or want to pretend it won’t happen. They adopt the approach, “Since I don’t know what to say, I won’t say anything.”
From Ellen’s Story:
When my mother passed away, I felt lost. It was like losing a child. I felt unneeded—like I had lost a lot of my importance and purpose in life. Caregiving took up a large percent of my day, and suddenly having so much time on my hands was a difficult adjustment for me. I went through years of depression after losing my mother, who was also my best friend. Over the years, our mother-child roles had reversed so much.
From June’s Update:What to Do about Mama? pp. 224, 279, 280-281, 277, 282, 286
I sat vigil for most of the twenty-four hours. My husband, daughter, and son were with me for most of the time. I sent them home around eight p.m. All the clinical signs of impending death were there, but she didn’t want to let go. She was unresponsive, but at one point, when my family was with me, I attempted to do mouth care with a sponge/stick. From under the sheet, up came her fist, which she shook at me. We looked at one another and laughed. She was still mad at me. That was so Mom. Around five a.m., I had this strong feeling that she did not want me there. It was so clear. I packed up, alerted the nurses, and drove home. I had just fallen asleep when the nursing home called me to say that she passed. I did not feel any guilt. I knew that was what she wanted. Surprisingly, I have moved on with great peace.
The Advocate for Mom & Dad September 29, 2020 article “Tips To Help Your Elder De-Clutter, Downsize and Move On” addresses the task of downsizing, and has a number of helpful suggestions to help seniors through the process.
I must confess that I am a hopeless organizer. I guess the process gives me a sense of control, so I have been organizing for just about as long as I can remember. I even recall an incident in 1st grade when I was reprimanded for cleaning out my desk during a classroom lesson.
I have gone through the process of decluttering my home several times over the years: twice when moving, a third time when my caregiving years ended, and a fourth when we again sold a home, one that we built and loved, to move into a condo near my youngest daughter. That was three years ago. We don’t have enough room in our condo to collect any more “things” and I expect this to be the last time we will downsize.
So, during the summer of 2019, when my brother and sister-in-law (SIL) faced unexpected medical circumstances requiring a quick move to a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community), I raised my hand and said, “I’m your gal. I may not be a ‘professional’ organizer, but I sure as heck could be!”
SIL was now faced with having to deal with a multitude of responsibilities, many of which my brother would have handled previously. Since I had so recently been through the process of downsizing, remodeling, and reorganizing a smaller home, I figured I could tap my skills and be a real asset to the program-at-hand. And as a matter of fact, I ran into the same challenges and adopted the same solutions as recommended in this article. BUT . . .
Did you ever notice that “How To Do _____ (fill in the chore) in _____ (fill in the number) steps makes it sound as if success is easy-peasy if you just follow the plan? NOT! I mean, sure—the tips are helpful—but in general, there are unavoidable undermining circumstances.
In my mind, I visualized the tasks at hand:
- Downsize belongings currently in a 3,000 square foot home to fit into a 900 square foot apartment (a 70% reduction).
- Help identify furnishings to keep and choose furnishings to purchase to make the new environs “cozy and comfortable” as well as functional.
I even “fantasized” sending the couple on getaway only to return to an HGTV-style reveal. I mean—I knew this was impossible, but it was fun to think about!
As recommended in the article, the first step is to begin whittling down by sorting and discarding. Cool! That was my first step, too. Professional organizers ask their clients to sort items into five piles: keep, sell, trash, donate, and unsure. Obviously, I couldn’t make these decisions independently; this is how the process played out:
- I tackled one area at a time
- I enlisted my brother’s help
- He insisted that all decisions be finalized by SIL
- I sorted items into three piles: keep, distribute (family, donations), trash
- When SIL came home from work she surveyed the piles returning 75% of the “distribute” pile to “keep”
- I reorganized everything neatly back into the cupboards and closets
- I returned home with the plan to come back in order to help them move into their new apartment in the CCRC
After six weeks, what had I accomplished? Belongings were downsized about 25% and I had made everything neater so that DOWNSIZING ROUND 2 would be easier for my niece to accomplish.
Clearly, I had underestimated how much emotional value SIL assigned to her belongings. Just about the only way she could part with an item was if she could pass the “heirloom” down to her children. But as noted in the article, seniors often find their children don’t want the stuff. Fortunately, my dear niece was exceptionally sensitive to her mother’s needs and managed to assimilate many “heirlooms” into her home, albeit much of it in storage.
I would like to get rid of most of my “stuff,” so my kids don’t need to deal with it, but that hasn’t happened, yet. I’m hoping to move to a smaller housing unit before that point so that I can make things easier for them. Although, I am relying on my children to do what is right. They already told us they are not putting up with any “stuff,” and will get us set up in a “home” situation where we will be safe.What to Do about Mama? Patricia’s Update p. 295
I went home shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday with the intention of returning to help with the eventual move, which was not to occur until the CCRC had undergone remodeling. Can you guess what happened then? COVID-19 applied the brakes. Stay at home orders resulted in affording much more time for my brother and SIL to get the job done, and the move has now taken place. It certainly hasn’t been the best time to move into a CCRC, with all the lifestyles restrictions, but hey, you do what you’ve got to do.
My biggest regret is that I spent those six weeks on a mission to accomplish what could not be accomplished, once again squandering an opportunity to just relax and enjoy my brother’s company.
How to Get Help
- National Association of Professional Organizers
- National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers.