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Caregiving and Multi-Tasking: Are You Trying To Do Too Much?

If you’re counting medications, talking on the phone to Medicare, cooking dinner, letting out the cat, answering your mother’s incessant questions—and zipping over to the computer to order your husband’s birthday cake—you’re a multitasking caregiving fool.  Not that you’re a fool, it’s just that I figured out it was foolish for me to think I could pull all that off at the same time—error free.

Why doesn’t multitasking work?  

It boils down to our brain structure. Science, April 16, 2010 edition reports a study in brain imaging  when subjects are given many tasks to complete simultaneously. The study asked subjects to “juggle streams of letters, concurrently performing two pairing tasks” only to find that our brains simply can’t do its best job when given too many jobs.

When we give our brains one task, one part of our two-part hemispheres take on the job—whichever the chore is best suited for. When we give our brains a second job, it’s allocated to the other half. We might be able to manage that, but add a third, and there’s no more hemispheres. We volley back and forth, jump from thought to thought, and eventually one of the balls gets dropped.

Sadly, and particularly in the medical field, “dropping the ball” can lead to dangerous outcomes—wrong dosages, a surgery on the wrong limb, a botched procedure. Even as a family caregiver, the wrong medications or incorrect dosage amounts are a strong possibility.

How do you care-give without multi-tasking?

I won’t lie. It’s not easy.

I was a sandwich generation, multi-generational, multi-tasking mom. Three kids, two dogs, a cat, a traveling husband, and a mom with heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. My days and nights blurred like a carosel on crack. I was dealing with teenage drivers, dating, my mom’s list of medications, her in and out hospital stays, a house to manage, my own feelings of womanhood, marriage, and laying down a career in order to be “mom central.” And yes, I dropped the ball. I let exhaustion and frustration lead me to some poor decisions. There were days I would sold a kid to the gypsies, my mom to the circus–and I had big plans of heading south and taking up life as a salty, toothless waitress.

I had my scares–waking up to find my kid had blown curfew. Waking up to find my mom heading out the back door (thank goodness for alarms!), calling poison control because my mom had tried to drink liquid deodorant (drink milk is what the told me–ever try to force an adult to drink anything?) Those wake-up calls scared the crap out of me. I was blowing it–and the consequences were only going to ramp up if I didn’t figure out how to care for those i loved.

The world comes at caregivers pretty hard and fast.

All we can do is prioritize. Let things wait. Decide what’s most important and shut the rest out, especially when it comes to medications, bathing, driving, and other safety issues. So ignore the phone. Answer that email later. Turn off the television. As the world around you begins to calm, you’ll find you really enjoy paying attention to just one thing at a time.

And perhaps there’s even a more important reason. When we’re multitasking we’re not really present. We may be performing a complicated list of chores, but we’re not the daughter, son, or spouse we mean—and need—to be.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Is your parent or spouse  out of control?

It can feel that way, if you’re dealing with Alzheimer’s.

Some days, my mom was worse than a room full of toddlers. She would try to “catch a taxi” by sneaking out the front door, stand with the refrigerator door eating jelly with her hands, grab my wrist and beg “Little girl, take me with you,” when I needed to leave her room, and sometimes yell or dump everything out of a drawer. Sometimes she was whiney, other times demanding, and yes, there were day when she was downright mean.

I knew it was the Alzheimer’s, and I did all I could to keep her safe and watch her carefully, but it was near impossible. At this stage of Alzheimer’s (mid to late), the medications don’t work as well.

This is the point when many families start seeking a care home for their loved one. I understand why. It’s not safe, and caregivers have to consider their own health, their livelihoods, and their relationships and balance all of this on the head of a pin. The guilt, worry, and resentment pile up like too many Autumn leaves.

Keys to Dealing with Difficult Alzheimer’s Behavior”:

  • As hard as it is, separate your emotions. Your loved one isn’t meaning to get you upset. Alzheimer’s causes changes in the brain. They can’t remember or comprehend what you’re asking them to do or not do. No matter how mad you get, how much you yell, it won’t stop them. They might not even understand what you want of them when you’re saying it, and certainly not minutes, hours, or days later. Love your mom, dad, spouse just as they are–and hold in your heart who they’ve always been to you.
  • Get home help. Now is the time you’ve been waiting for. Your loved one needs close supervision–more than one person can give. Hiring a home health aide is still a cheap(er) alternative to a care facility. Check into agencies who are used to working with those who have Alzheimer’s and ask specifically for a more experienced professional.
  • Distract and substitute. I wrote a blog at AlzheimersCaregiving.com on how these two techniques can help to calm an agitated loved one. You can’t argue with them, but you can distract them–with another object, a person, a song, or substitute their behavior or object with something “shiny” that interests them. Keep a “toy box” of items they like–a stuffed animal or old pocket watch that doesn’t work.
  • Start checking out some nearby care homes. As much as we love them, want them home with us, sometimes it’s just not possible.  locked facility (sounds terrible but it’s not) can give you the peace of mind to know they’re not going to wander. You’re still their family, their care advocate, but know that many families feel they have no alternative –for safety and health reasons than to place their loved one in the best care home (locked/long-term care/memory disorder centers) where their needs will be met.  

All you can do is face each day as it comes. Rally help around you, use every tactic you can, separate the disease from the person, and know that you might not be able to keep  loved one at home for the rest of their lives, but your love, committment, and caregiving advocacy is much needed.

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“You’re in a bad mood.” I could see it on my mother’s face the moment she woke up.

As a caregiver, my mother and I took turns being in a bad mood. It’s a miserable existence when two people play off each other’s negativity. My mother had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and some days, it was just too much for her to work at being happy. Is it work? Is happy all it’s cracked up to be? It’s not about being happy or giddy, it’s more about being okay with where you life is–acceptance–and then being on the look-out for the good that comes with your situation.

My mom wasn’t the only one that could turn into a Gloomy Gus. I had my own issues to contend with–raising three teenage daughters isn’t the world’s easiest job, and it’s easy to let depression seep in the cracks of your life when you’re caregiving and dealing with end-of-life concerns.

It’s usually the head and heart stuff that turns your insides into knots. I’d mull over a past hurt (my mother should have been archeologist, the way she could dig up the past!) or I’d project into the future and create disastrous scenarios. Ridiculous, I know, but our minds are like a team of horses, if you don’t reign it in, it goes anywhere it wants to, which is usually a bad-thought neighborhood.

In time, I learned that if my mom and I were going to live together again, and if she was going to have to do the tango with two formidable diseases, then we had better get our act together.

Here are a few tips I learned to coax either of us out of a bad mood:

  • Lovingly disengage. Just because my mom wanted to declare it the end-of-the world-all-is-lost-day, I didn’t have to raise the flag. I could take one step back and acknowledge that yes, today was a challenging day for her, but the best thing I could do for both of us was to stay on a steady course.
  • Ignore the whining and grumpiness. I’ve learned something about emotions by observing my long and illustrious marriage–sometimes we push someone else’s buttons so they will either get mad, yell or cry–and then we feed off the release of their emotions. I’m not kidding! Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship will attest to this phenomena. So the best thing to do is to click into high gear and simply not go there. After a time of it not working, the emotional fire won’t have any oxygen to keep going.
  • Conversely, if you haven’t had a heart to heart talk lately, then it may be time. But cut to the chase. Ask if they’re scared. Ask if they’re lonely. Tell them you are. At first, they’ll most likely scramble. We’d rather pick at each other than look at the truth, but by you admitting your emotions, they’ll gain permission to consider their own.
  • Put on some music or a funny video! Music is simply amazing when it comes to altering our moods. Within minutes, we breathe differently, our heart rate alters, and we start having different thoughts. Turn on some Bach or Count Basie to drown out a fussy moment. Even if they complain and say turn it down, don’t turn it off.
  • Coax, flirt, play, tease your way out a challenging moment. Remember how to cheer up a toddler? Get their favorite stuffed toy, a cookie and a snuggly blanket? Do you think we ever grow up from needing a few creature comforts? We don’t. With a bit of gentle play, a time of wooing, an offer of a gift, we can cause a shift in someone’s day. Come on girls, you know what I mean here–we’ve been cheering up our guys for years. Guys, there is nothing in the world like flowers and chocolate. It works–for moms and girlfriends. Even for dads. Remember what they like. There’s nothing as wonderful as someone who knows you.

When all else fails, choose to be grateful for even days like this. Gratitude can be broken down into bite-size pieces. Today, a flock a sea birds took off over my house. It sounded like angel’s wings–and took my breath to see such magnificence. they just kept coming, bird after bird, their long necks (egrets and spoonbills) stretched against a blue sky. Whatever happens today, I have my birds to remember.

Not all of your day may go so great, but be on the look out for your birds–for something that startles you and takes your breath.

Helping someone get out of bad mood is an art, part play, and part having a plan. The up-side is that you can’t help lift someone else out of the doldrums without giving yourself a boost at the same time.

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Caregiving kicks up family igivssues. It just does. We can think we’re over them. We made amends. Asked forgiveness-forgave–and then we find ourselves back in that vortex of anger and hurt. Are we truly able to let go of a grudge?

We don’t like to admit it, but we like our addictions, and yes, a grudge (hurt) can become an addiction of sorts. We grow accustomed to, feel comfortable and safe with our dramas. Why? Because people fear the unknown. Even when the known isn’t so great.

Grudges. We all have them. Hurts from the past. Times our moms or dads weren’t there for us. Times when our siblings belittled us, took something we wanted for their own. Some wounds are profound. Some of us have been molested, raped, endured physical or verbal abuse. It’s not that we’re trying to be difficult. These are valid. They were and in many ways are knife slashes to our soul. And when it comes time to be a caregiver, these grievances resurface and can get in the way–not only of giving care, if we choose to–but get in the way of our own personal growth and healing.

5  Keys to Letting Go of a Grudge:

  1. Admit you have one.
  2. Admit you’re tired of having one.
  3. Stop negative words from coming out of your mouth–mid-word.
  4. Crowd out those hurtful thoughts. When you catch yourself mulling over the hurts of the past–crowd it out with something else–music, go-online and read some jokes, or call an upbeat friend.
  5. Give your grudge a ceremony. Create a campfire and write your hurts on paper and then burn them, or write them on rocks and place them in a rock garden, do something that signifies that you’re letting go of this hurt–and when you start to say or think about that grudge, remind yourself of that ceremony and tell yourself it’s a done deal. That’s why weddings and funerals are a part of so many cultures–they signifiy new beginnings and bitter-sweet ends.

I was watching the film, What the Bleep Do We Know,and I was reminded by one of their neuro-scientists about the power of our frontal lobes. Human beings have a highly developed frontal region, and this region is our seat of reason. We can decide, change our minds, examine, ponder, and observe–all from this vantage point. If our frontal lobes have been damaged, our ability to decide–anything–whether we’d like toast or a biscuit for breakfast is hampered, if not downright halted. 

Deciding what to do with a grudge is a choice.

Have you ever had something, thoughts that consumed you for years–that are no longer a part of your every day life? That means you’ve moved on–and if you did it once–you can do it again. Somehow, you started to choose to view that hurt (grudge) differently. It lost its “umph” as my mother used to say when a Sprite no longer held a zing.

Grudge sounds so negative–sounds like drudge or dredge. Let’s just call it a hurt we’ve been holding onto for a while. I’m not belittling what has happened to you. I have had some pretty decent size  traumas in my life, so I’m not immune to this topic. I take it very serious. It took me years, years to deal with my hurts. Did you know that sociologist’s have found that it takes about 15 years to work through the issues that come with severe traumas such as dealing with a suicide, murder or rape? That’s a lot of time, but if you’ve ever experienced any of these, you know the physical and psychological toll it took on you.

Why do some people absorb their pain, use it in some  way for the good, incorporate it into their being, and in essence, “move on” when others seem stuck in anger, regret, and seething pain for the rest of their lives?

I don’t know the answer to that.  I don’t think it’s because one person is better or stronger than the other.  I do believe it’s in part, a choice–even when they don’t realize it. I think it’s because the light bulb (understanding, revalation) hasn’t been turned on–yet. It’s part of their journey, and I love the saying, “If I’d-a known better, I’d-a done better.”

But I do know that people are capable of change–great change. Sometimes the shackles that had us so pinned down one day simply fall to the ground. 

For me, I think I wore out my anger and hurt. I got  sick and tired of being sick and tired as Oprah says. My angry, pitiful story of how I was hurt was no longer a story I wanted to tell. I started to observe that people didn’t want to be around me when I was complaining. I could taste my own toxins and I was turned off by what was rolling around in my thoughts and falling off my tongue. 

I began to want to be well. I started by controlling what came out of my mouth. Not easy. Lots of start-overs.  I wrote down my hurts, said a prayer, sometimes burned them on pieces of paper, ready every self-help book under the sun. My awareness and desire to change was at least a start.

There were times when caring for my adoptive mother (who had Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) was difficult. Buttons got pushed and at times, I felt right back in that quagmire of the anger and pain I thought I had dealt with years ago.  But I found that I chose not to stay there, in my complaining, nasty, negative self. I didn’t want my grudge any more. I didn’t identify with that part of my past. It wasn’t that “we,” my mother and me were completely fixed and all was magically erased–it wasn’t, and I didn’t want it to be. I could accept who we were, what we had done to ourselves and each other, and I could see that we were no longer those two same people.

If you’re reading this, then maybe you’re ready to let go of some of that back of the closet crap you thought for some reason you had to hold onto.

It’s a new day when our grudges no longer bring us comfort. A new self is emerging.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking with the Parkinson’s Foundation of Manitoba Canada. We’ll gather in Winnipeg and talk about what it’s like to be on this journey. Husbands, wives, those with Parkinson’s, sons and daughters–we’ll huddle in a room, learn a few things, introduce ourselves, and crack a few jokes.

Yes, that’s what I said. Jokes. Because one thing I know is that one weapon you need to fight the fatigue and frustration is to be able to make a joke out of anything, especially the things that bug us, confound us, and are generally considered off limits. And let’s face it–life is funnier when you have someone to share it with.

There will be close to 200 caregivers tomorrow gathered in one room–and it’s my “job” to give them hope, to give them a few minutes of feeling like they’re part of a tribe–they’re in the “in” crowd. Caregiving is cool because it’s a community of people who care, really care.

As an author and speaker it’s my job to point out the ridiculous, the hilarious, the over-the-top so insane moments that come with Parkinson’s. And as I watch these tired souls nod, chuckle, nudge each other, and smile…I feel like I did something meaningful with my own experience.

I’m so blessed to have had such a difficult mother! (Did that just come out of my mouth?) I’m so glad she was a pistol–because she taught me stand up for my self, and at times, to stand against her. Our difference made me define myself, and even the the hurts we inflicted on each other are now a part of our fabric–and they’re part of what I share and weave into my stories.

If I didn’t tell the truth, these caregivers would know. It would be like trying to lie to a front line sharpshooter about the realities of war. I’d be shot on the spot. I think they call this friendly fire.

I’ll share about our numerous mother-daughter fights. How she told me how to drive, how to cook, how to dress, how to make her bed. When she’d get really bossy I used to say that a small country was missing their dictator. We learned how to deal with the tremors, the pauses, the hiccups of “P.D.” as my mother called it–with humor, patience, and grace–depending on what was needed at the time. 

I’ll even go up to the edge of decorum and dangle my toes over–share how I thought of rigging up a large spotlight in the corner of the room so she could “go to the light.” And then I’ll take them where they’re afraid to go alone. We’ll  talk a little about their own lives, their own dreams-on-hold, and what it will be like later–after their loved one is no longer on this earth–how they’ll love and remember them and incorporate them into their being–and figure out who they are and where they are once again. 

And I’ll encourage them to look around–at their “peop’s.” This room is their tribe. There’s someone here they could email or call. There’s someone here who knows a thing or two about their particular current issue–and how we help each other at our points of need.

That’s the power of community. As isolating as caregiving is, it also makes us vulnerable–and that’s a good thing. We meet, come to gether only where our lives intersect.   

I know how tired you are. I know you don’t consider yourself good company.

But you need people–and they need you. You can start giving back now (what, you didn’t realize this was part of the bargain?) There are new caregivers every day. They’re your neighbors, your cousins, your friends, and they need your wisdom, advice, and your “here’s what not to do” list. When life presents you an opportunity (and it will), I hope your ears will perk up and you’ll remember this blog, and you’ll know it’s time.

Finding your tribe means you are willing to step into the circle.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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Halloween is just for kids? Who says?

Our elders really get a kick out of Halloween. They love to see the kids dress up and enjoy handing out candy, or at least watching the parade of adorable angels, fairies, pirates, and ghosts walk by.

Easy Ways to Enjoy the Fall and Halloween Season:

  • Pick up a pumpkin at the grocery store. Even if you don’t cut it, it’s still pretty sitting on the front porch.
  • Decorate your house with a few spooky bats. Use some black construction paper or even use some purple, red, or green wrapping paper–who says bats have to be black?
  • Hang a ghost from a tree–all you need is a sheet and two black eyes and some string.
  • Buy a witch’s hat at a discount store and walk around with a broom and cackle. Your mom or dad will perk up, I promise, if you greet them with their afternoon meds as a witch!
  • Splurge on a little Halloween candy. Get something your mom or dad can eat. A couple of marshmallow pumpkins won’t hurt anything. We all have a sweet tooth–at any age. My mom had a thing for Little Debbie snacks–and I couldn’t help but let her enjoy herself with a couple of swiss cake rolls every once in a while.
  • Plan ahead, bundle up your senior, and either sit outside or near the front door and pass out candy.
  • Light some candles or even string a few Christmas lights around your door–you can leave them up for the next two months and they give off a nice glow.
  • Make it a point to meet a few of your neighbors. If you don’t know your neighbors, you need to–and what better way to strike up a conversation than over a cup of hot cider or commenting on how cute their kids are.
  • Do you know that young couples miss their grandparents and would love a surrogate grandpa or grandmother for their kids to look up to?
  • Let your mom or dad be the candy passer-outer. That will allow them to see the children’s costumes and they’ll enjoy the festivities.
  • Consider renting a oldie–but goodie. How about the Bride of Frankenstein–or the old Dracula? If you mom or dad don’t seem to be up for being frightened, then try a little Planet Earth–the one about all the bats in the caves of Mexico scared me more than any scary movie ever could! For a G-rated film, try Charlie Brown’s Halloween Special.
  • Make a pot of veggie soup–or chili. Mix up some cornbread and enjoy the fall chill in the air.
  • If you’re near your grandkids, then consider going to their house and enjoying the fun. This is how you make family memories–and it’s worth the trouble.

I read this great short story once about a daughter who took her mom, who had Alzheimer’s, to a Halloween party. Her mom loved it–and totally got into the masks and charades and felt free–not to have to be one person or another–to be concerned with knowing someone, recognizing someone. For Halloween night, she could be anybody she wanted.

I have a favorite Halloween memory of my mom and me. It’s a bit unusual since I grew up in a strict religious household–my mom was a minister–so you don’t exactly think they’d buy into the whole Halloween thing, but she did. I’m glad she didn’t take it too serious because to this day, and I still love to dress up.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, SAID CHILD, which is the prequel to Mothering Mother. (SAID CHILD is about being adopted at age four, and my search for my birth family–and how I learned to love both my adoptive and birth family). 

 

               Daddy had been in the hospital for back surgery on Halloween when I was about eight or nine years old. It was an especially cold Georgia Halloween night and I fidgeted beside his hospital bed, tired of coloring and wanting to go home and get on my fairy costume and go trick-or-treating. By the time Mama and I kissed Daddy goodbye and we made it out of the hospital and hit the cold night air of the parking lot, I realized it was long since dark. The cold bit into my chest.

“Don’t worry, I have an idea,” she said as she walked a little faster.

We hurried home and I moped around, standing on the heater grate, curling my sock feet over the metal edges for warmth. Mama burst out of her bedroom,

“Count to one hundred, and then come knock on my bedroom door.”

What was she up to? I did as I was told.

“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.” Knock, knock.

Mama cracked open the bedroom door. She peeked out with a sheet over her head,

“Ohhh!” She moaned like a ghost. I squealed and giggled.

“I am a Halloween ghost!” she said in a low voice spooky voice. “Would you like some candy, little girl?”

I ran and got my orange plastic pumpkin bucket and thrust it toward the door. Mama dumped in a handful of Bit-O-Honey candies. She leaned down and whispered for me to count to one hundred again with my eyes closed, and then go to the bathroom door and knock. She motioned for me to turn away as she ran to the next room.

Mama opened the bathroom door wearing Daddy’s trench coat and hat and a mustache she must have drawn on with her eyebrow pencil. I laughed until I fell down and then held out my plastic pumpkin as she emptied Bazooka bubble gum into it.

We ran from room to room and each time Mama appeared as a new character—a maid with apron and spoon in the kitchen, a lady in a evening gown and fancy hat in the closet, a little girl with curlers in her hair and a teddy bear when she emerged from my room.

 

Mama wasn’t so boring after all. As regular as a clock, she kept my childhood in order. She made sure I scrubbed under my fingernails and practiced my times tables. But she was also a mother capable of a surprise or two–especially on Halloween. 

***

Have a Happy, Safe, and Fun Halloween!

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

Family Advisor at Caring.com  

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The first month after your loved one dies is perhaps one of the scariest,

most dreaded times in a person’s life.

Losing a spouse, a parent, a child is devastating. But somehow, you will get through.

I know you don’t think you will.

But there’s this little thing called breathing. Your body does it whether you want it to or not.

Your heart can be breaking, your gut wrenched, and you can feel as if you will truly lose your mind–and your body will continue to take its next breath. There will be times when you don’t want to breathe. You don’t want to live–the pain is so intense. Just let your body get your through for now.

It’s a divine design–to keep our heart and lungs on automatic.

I’m sure I would have either forgotten or opted not to breathe, not to allow my heart to pump if I had any say in the matter. But this sheer involuntary response is the only way to go on during those early days of grief.

Death comes in many forms–by way of an accident, or after a long agonizing illness–it’s never easy.

Even when you’ve been caregiving for years and you know your loved one is no longer suffering, almost everyone has a difficult time letting go.

Why? Why is it so difficult to watch death take those we love–even after pain and suffering, and even old age?

I believe because there’s something in us that deeply believes in the eternal.

Our brains do not compute that life is simply cut off. I’m not basing this on any particular religion or theology–I’m basing this on biology–we cannot comprehend that someone we know and love was here yesterday–and is not here today. Those who look at this purely scientific would say that it’s mere habit–but something in me feels that it’s more.

Why, after practicing a lifetime of faith, and believing with all our hearts that we will see our loved one again–is it still so hard to stand next to their lifeless, breathless body and kiss them goodbye?

The same reason a toddler cries for his/her mother. We don’t like separation.

And those early days of separation are very, very difficult.

What’s it like? That first month?

Experiencing a death of someone we love–at any age, and for any reason, usually means that we go into shock. Not only have I experienced the death of several loved ones, like you, I have many family and friends who have also experience grief and loss.

By looking at these first few days and weeks, we can begin to see a pattern–in ourselves and others. It’s less scary to know that we’re not alone, and that our bizarre thoughts and actions are something others experience as well.

What is shock?

It’s our body’s response to trauma or pain.

Physically, speaking, shock is when the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. It can occur after an injury when the body shuts down (the blood stays close to the heart to preserve life at its core level–or it can occur after a severe emotional trauma.

WebMD desribes shock as this:

  1. A sudden physical or biochemical disturbance that results in inadequate blood flow and oxygenation of an animal’s vital organs.
  2. A state of profound mental and physical depression consequent to severe physical injury or to emotional disturbance.

If you’ve ever experienced shock (yourself or by witnessing it in another person), one of its prime characteristics is that you’re probably not reacting to pain (physically or emotionally) as you would expect.

Car accident victims can walk around with a head wound or internal injury–and only after minutes or even hours does the body “compute” the damage and begin to react. This may give the person time to rescue a child or get out of a fire.

Emotional trauma shock can present with similar symptoms–the person may talk or act rather normal, even when you would expect them to cry or scream or fall apart. They might eventually do all those things–but it may be weeks or months later. The mind has the ability to stay “in shock” much longer than the body–and it will usually only allow the person to really feel and experience the deepest levels of grief when it’s safe.

The movie, Reign Over Me is a great example of emotional shock.

Adam Sandlerplays a man who lost his wife and children during 9/11. He spends years in “shock,” and the exploration of how this man deals with grief in an unconventional way–and the arguments that the social and mental health community make to try to “fix” him, is interesting.

Every person’s journey with grief and loss is different. Honor yours.

Trust your gut, your shock will get you through.

During the first month you might: (no two people are the same)

  • Be able to plan an elaborate funeral or memorial service
  • Hold yourself together–be courteous, thoughtful and polite
  • Look healthy and strong
  • Go back to work days or weeks after your loved one passes
  • Feel euphoric–an urgency to get on with life
  • Plan a trip, go shopping, or other ordinary things
  • Go off with friends and do things you haven’t been able to do in a long time

But…if you observe grief and shock a little closer, you’ll notice things aren’t quite what they appear on the surface.

You might also:

  • Feel high strung, nervous, agitated
  • Can’t pay attention, get bored or antsy with people
  • Suffer from insomnia
  • Have a panic or anxiety attack when you’re out in public
  • Zone out and not remember where you are
  • Feel guilty and think you caused your loved one to die (by taking them to the hospital, or not taking them, or a myriad of other decisions you had to make)
  • Forget things–your keys locked in the car, your wallet at the gas station
  • Avoid falling apart or crying because you may feel like once you start, you won’t be able to stop
  • Have nightmares, even scary dreams of your loved one coming back alive–but not alive
  • Become obsessed with something–putting your affairs in order, doing something your loved one nagged you about but you put off–but now you’re doing it to excess
  • Do something, anything to feel alive–gamble, go to Vegas, visit online chat rooms, shop too much, eat too much
  • You may start to snap at people–or cling–can’t let yourself be alone
  • Your emotional pendulum keeps swinging wider and wider

Practical Things You Typically Do The First Month:

  • File for and receive the death certificate (that’s tough)
  • Contact your life insurance
  • Decide when or if to go back to work
  • Comfort others around you–children, friends, even when you don’t feel like it
  • Cancel credit cards and put your house or car in your name only
  • Pay the bills associated with your loved one’s passing–funeral expenses, etc.
  • Decide to buy or sell certain items
  • Figure out how to pay the bills or deal with repairs–whatever your spouse/loved one did that you now must do
  • Catch up with your lfe–if your loved one was ill, there may be many things that need your attention now
  • Write thank you notes and figure out how to handle your relationships with this new change

Emotionally You’ll Have To:

  • Make calls and let businesses know your loved one has passed
  • Talk to many family and friends–and some of them will be awkward and say the “wrong” thing
  • Walk back in your house, your bedroom, drive his car–feel his/her presence and be faced with your loss
  • Sleep in the bed he’s/she’s no longer in
  • Deal with clothes, cars and other personal items–even if you don’t start sorting and deciding what you keep, they are with you–in your house and your life
  • Allow your brain and heart to assimilate that your loved one’s not here for you to call–to talk to
  • Wake up and think he’s/she’s still there
  • Feel alone and lost even when you’re busy
  • Figure out who you are now and what to do with your time and energy
  • Think about that “first” that is to come–first birthday without him, holiday without her–and make a plan
  • Literally survive the best you can

For most people, the first month is a blur.

At times, you’re in bone crushing grief alternting with an odd euphoric gotta-get-out feeling.

You can bite someone’s head off or not even care if the shoes on your feet were on fire.

There’s a lot to do, and that list of wrapping things up and starting anew at least keeps your keep moving. The good news is: you probably won’t remember most of this.

Shock does a whammy on the brain. You may feel like you’ve put your skin on inside out–and your nerve endings are exploding–but later, there will be many things you can’t recall.

Your body is protecting you. Let it. J

As crazy, lost, alone, scattered, numb, and frantic as you feel in those first months, know that as hard as it is to believe, it won’t last forever.

Just breathe.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

www.caroldodell.com

Carol is a family advisor at www.Caring.com

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