BY GAIL SHAW— Home Services Care Coordinator – A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be devastating for both the client and their family caregiver. Suddenly life changes and there is a reason to explain why one can’t remember names, faces or important dates, why your loved one is not able to explain the new dents on the car, or why some of the ingredients to a traditional family meal were left out. There is a sense of loss that has quietly moved in and settled in the caregiver’s subconscious.

Many years ago, I sat on a committee dedicated to helping family caregivers survive their time of caregiving. One of the other members brought forth a new concept to the group called anticipatory grief. What an enlightening concept on a heartbreaking subject. Since then this topic has been discussed many times during our Alzheimer’s Support Group meetings.

The definition of grief is a deep sadness or deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death. Therefore, the definition of anticipatory grief refers to a feeling of grief occurring before an impending loss. Typically, the impending loss is the death of someone close due to illness. It should be mentioned that it is not uncommon for the grieving to end with their love one’s death. The caregiver is then finally released from mourning. Different ones have mentioned it is like having a burden lifted off their shoulders. Relief has come.

Family caregivers watch their loved ones slowly fade away over a long period of time. This is very hard emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually for them. There will be times of anger, frustration and a whole lot of tears. It may not be uncommon to experience some depression. One may not realize at the time that they are mourning. The family caregiver is dealing with a slow progressive loss every day until their loved one passes on. That is a very long time to grieve.

A support group can be a wealth of information for someone on this journey. You will be around others who are dealing with similar issues. When the topic and explanation of anticipatory grief comes up, it is usually met with an “aha” moment. Then there are tears and nodding of the head. The group member gets it. This knowledge has a way of helping one cope with the pain.

The topic of anticipatory grieving comes up in the support group when group members talk about what they are missing in their current relationship with their spouse, parent or friend. These discussions may center around the individual with memory loss not remembering the grandchildren’s names, not knowing what holiday is coming up, or not being able to call the family caregiver by name. Others may talk about how they wish they could hold a conversation with their loved one.

What can you do for someone you know who is caring for a loved one with memory loss? Be there for them. You now know that this grieving is different than when one loses someone suddenly or after a short illness. The family caregiver will need your support and understanding. Being able to get away from all the caregiving duties and have a change of scenery can make a big difference in the caregiver’s attitude and mental state. You may also want to encourage them to attend a local support group.

St. John’s Community Care has three support groups to choose from that meet one time every month. Please feel free to contact our office (618-344-5008) for more information on support groups.