Friday, October 19, 2007

Healing and the Grieving Process

The work I had done at my father’s LTC home had been noticed, and I was asked to participate in the Aging at Home Project. Each Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) was charged with finding appropriate regional responses to the issues of old age and the dearth of health care. Weekly I traveled to Orillia to work with some phenomenal men and women representing various stakeholders who served seniors: LTC; Alzheimer’s groups; private, profit, and non-profit groups; medical professionals: a geriatrician, geriatric nurses, CCAC nurses; and so on. It was an interesting process and I learned a great deal about the health care system while participating in this project.

In regards to my psychosocial health*, I knew that time healed all. It was getting easier to move around this place and deal with the little things in a day that raised my ire a month or two ago. Small things in the past year would overwhelm me and cause me to cry. I forced myself to stop, regroup, and let it all go. New projects kept me busy. I could see, now, from my involvement with projects related to seniors and aging, how I had learned from all I had been through. I could see that now. It has been eight months since I lost my father; more than a year--nearly a year and a half--to grieve for my mother. Where does the time go? I still found myself wanting to take Mom photos to show her places we had been or to laud the achievements of her grandchildren. As I look forward to being a grandmother, I know that the circle of life completes itself, as it should.

The more I talk to others, the more I realize that things were not as they should have been in the final months. Mom denied all that was happening in an effort to not allow it to be so. I still feel regret that I was not here to help her pass over. She thought, I believe now, that I could not have handled it. Always, one had to remember that our children are our future. We need to model death and dying, as much as living. Our children need room to grow. The old trees fall over in the forest and leave space for the younger trees to grow and seek the light; we age and step aside for our young ones. We could prepare for it and encourage them to be individuals and to be independent. And, when it was time, we could let go and let them become adults and contributing members of society. It is in the giving that we receive.
As I prepared to go to Ottawa to my daughter’s baby shower, I hoped I could pass on all I had learned. Another part of me wondered if I needed to. The lessons we learn are ours and are learned in a different age and time. We can do no more than provide roots and wings. The trees grow; they pass their time in the seasons of the sun, then, when we shed our leaves for the final time we know that others would follow. No one stands in the forest where and when and as I do. I would not shelter my children. I could give them shade and support. I had to trust and have faith.
*Major depressive disorder is defined in the DSM-IV-TR (the bible of the American Psychiatric Association, 2000) as characterized by a period of at least two weeks where a person has (a) a depressed mood and/or (b) loss of interest or pleasure in regular activities. Beery, et al. (1997) examined the changes and the effects caregiving has on elderly spouses. They are profound: spouses can experience traumatic grief, as well as depression symptoms.
If stress persists, there are chemical changes in the body. I could see this happening in me as I fought for Dad. These changes are not restricted to the body; they impact one’s life psychologically and socially. In the research I did for my psychobiology course, I found that there were many signs of depression:

• Lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities
• A change in eating patterns
• Changes in sleep patterns
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Energy level decrease
• Problems making decisions
• Thoughts of suicide

I experienced many of these symptoms in various stages. Depression can be brought on by an extreme response to life’s normal passages (moving, a new job, childbirth, death of a loved one). I hit a lot of these milestones in one go! Depression could occur during the entire adult stage of life, but it was more frequently diagnosed in early adulthood with new challenges faced by those just navigating the path of adulthood, and less frequently in late adulthood as a healthy adult adjusts to life in society (Sigelman and Rider, 2006).