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Archive for the ‘home passing’ Category

After a decade of caring for my mother who had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, then brought her into our home the last 2+ years of her life, this is the distilled version of what caregiving taught me. I am profoundly grateful for these lessons.

  1. To stand up for myself, and caregiving will give me plenty of opportunities to do so.
  2. There is a time in life in which you sacrifice for someone you love–and a time to stop sacrificing.  
  3. It takes humor to tackle the big scary things in life, like caregiving, disease, and death.
  4. Caregiving will inevitably bring out the worst–and the best in me.
  5. Caregiving will change me, but it’s up to me to determine how.
  6. I can’t stop death.
  7. I can decide how I will live the next moment of my life. One moment at a time.
  8. My emotions are my body’s barometers. I need to listen to these cues, feel them, use them as a catalyst, but know that no one emotion will last forever.
  9. To pace myself. Burnout is very real and very dangerous.
  10. I can’t meet all the needs of another human being. I can’t take the place of my care partner’s spouse, career, friends, or health.
  11. Caregiving is about integrity. I have to choose what is right–for me–and for all the others in my life. No one person gets to be the “only one ” 
  12. When I start to give too much to caregiving, it means I’m avoiding some aspect of my own life’s journey.
  13. Caregiving  isn’t just about caregiving. It unearths every emotional weak spot I have–not to destroy me–but to give me a chance to look at, and even heal that area.
  14. I have to stop being nice and pleasing people. “They” will never be satisfied or think it’s enough. What’s best for me–truly, deeply best–is best for those around me.
  15. Learning to stand up to relatives, authority figures, to my parent or spouse, and even a disease teaches me to be brave, a quality we need.
  16. Give up perfect. Go for decent. Do more of what I’m good at–and ask for help on the rest.
  17. Don’t isolate myself. Being alone, depressed, and negative is easy. Fighting to stay in the game of life–that’s tough, but worth it.
  18. If or when my care partner needs more care than I can provide, or even dies, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve done all I could and it’s time for change.
  19. You will go the distance. You will live at hospitals, stay up night after night, weep in the deepest part of your soul, question everything you’re doing…and barely come out alive. Caregiving asks, takes this from you. Through this process, you will transform. You will see who you are–the whole of you. You will survive.
  20. Choose to care-give–then do with heart and guts.

To love makes us brave. To be loved gives us courage.

                                                                                                                                       –Lao Tzo, Chinese Philosopher

Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother

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My mom had Parkinson’s, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s–and she lived with my family (husband, daughters and me), and I was her full-time caregiver. I remember when I realized my mom was dying., literally dying–and that she would pass away in our home. I wanted to give her a home passing, but I felt sucked into death with her. The atmosphere of our home was somber. I was sleep deprived, zombified, and barreling toward depression. As crazy as it sounds, I told my husband I wanted a puppy.

Yes, I know dogs are work. I know puppies are even ten times more work. Why would a caregiver want something else to take care of? Because I needed to surround myself with new life. I needed a roly poly furry baby body to hold. I needed puppy’s breath (which to me smells like coffee, an aroma I adore) and tiny wimpers. I needed to surround myself with life as we faced the end of my mother’s days.

It wasn’t that I had read or considered studies about stress and the healing powers of pet therapy. It was pure instinct.

I’m often asked for hints to help caregivers and I know it might sound lame, but I deeply believe that the answer, at least part of it, lies in nature. We’re surrounded by this lush world of variety, color, texture, sights, smells, and sounds. The earth is our food–for our bodies and our souls.

My greatest comfort during my most stressful caregiving times was to go outside, stand by the river behind our house, wander in and out of the trees, pick wildflowers (commonly known as weeds), and feel the ground beneath me and the wind brush past me. Nothing brought me back to a place of calm than to simply step outside, take a few minutes, and breathe.

My husband and I went for a bike ride just minutes after I said I needed a puppy, that all of us needed a puppy. We’d only be gone ten minutes–a jaunt around the neighborhood…and there was a sign near the front of our community. “Free puppies.”

Not kidding. There it was. I took it as a sign (ha!) and we turned into the driveway.  It was a wide, flat yard with a doghouse, a trailer for a boat and a few spread out trees. And there was my puppy. A six-week old Alaskan Malamute/German shepherd mix curled in a C under the boat trailer. She was fat, sweet, and I knew she was to be mine.

We came home from that ten minute bike ride with Kismet. That’s her name. It’s means fate.

Our daughter’s eyes lit up, and even my mom, lost in muddled memories so long ago, connected. We were smitten. Kismet made us all laugh, play, and  cuddle. It was exactly what we needed. New life. Hope. Proof that life goes on.

Yes, it  took energy and time to train her, and we all pitched in. And yes, puppies do get up in the middle of night–but hey, I was already up with my mom anyway. She had sundowning and many of her nights resembled a late night brawl in a lively Irish pub. My mom yelled, ate handfuls out fo the frig or pantry, tried to escape, wrecked her room–it was wild. At least I could calm her, get her in bed, and hold my pudgy puppy for a few minutes and take in that musky, earthy puppy breath that only lasts for a few months.

Maybe this sounds like too much work, and don’t think you have to commit to a pet in order to feel joy and connection. 

Simple ways to surround yourself with new life:

  • Get flowers at the grocery store each week. Start collecting African violets–get some feed solution,  and set yourself up a window of violets in pinks, lavenders, deep purples and blues. If one dies, toss it!
  • Get some stick-on bird feeders that attach to your windows. They’re so cool and you can get them at a local bird or pet store, hardware or even WalMart. You can get hummingbird feeders or songbird feeders. It’s amazing to stand in your kitchen washing dishes and see a hummingbird hover right in front of you.
  • Buy bird feeder and put up a bird bath in your garden. Who cares if the squirrels eat it, too. Squirrels are fun to watch as well. I had a little guy with a bent tail visit me outside my home office window for years–every morning at 10am. I rushed to get in there to see the little guy and I enjoyed their antics–he apparently had a thing for a girl squirrel who was the equivalent to the prom queen because every male squirrel fawned over her. It’s better than watching the soaps!
  • Get binoculars and sit on the porch with your care buddy and bird watch together.
  • Stop by your local animal shelter–or even the pet store. On your way home from errands, stop and pet some kitties and puppies at the local shelter. They need love and will be better pets for their adoptive family if they get touched and talked to every day. You don’t have to “own” a pet to enjoy them.
  • Go to the zoo, local butterfly garden, or nature preserve. Caregiving can include field trips! Even if your loved one can’t walk far, many places have wheelchairs or can drive you in a golf cart. And who says you need to go through the whole place? Pick one animal you love, let your care buddy pick one animal they love, and only go there. Even thirty minutes is worth it–and with senior discounts, it’s a reasonable price and will change your whole day.

Kismet is now 7 years old–and what I had no way of knowing is that she would give us another gift. The last few months of my mom’s life was excruciating and poignant. Alzheimer’s took her ability to eat, to chew, to swallow, and her death was slow but I’m grateful to have this experience. On the year anniversary of my mom’s passing, Rupert, Kismet’s son was born.

Life trumps death.

He is the most adorable dog–sweet, funny, goofy and he came right on time. Just when we all needed another infusion of life.

I hope you find life–in the midst of caregiving–in the midst of sorrow and stress. Go with your gut and find something that quickens your heart. Life. It’s all around you.

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“I quit!” I said it more than once when I was caregiving my mom.

And I meant it–the only problem was, I couldn’t figure out what to do with her if I didn’t care for her!

I was an only child. Her sister was older than she was–and her children were taking care of her. I tried to find a care home that wouldn’t break the bank and offer decent care. I couldn’t find one–I was at the end of my rope. (I know more now about how to find care homes and financial possibilities than I did back then).

I felt stuck. My mother was in the darkest trenches of Alzheimer’s. She was mean, didn’t know who I was. She’d try to hit me, kick me, fall, refuse to let me help her. It was rough and the truth was, there was no one but me to do the job.

 I told my husband “I quit.”

 He said, “You can’t.”

Easy for him to be honorable. He got to go to work each morning and leave me in the house with…her!

I “quit” more than once. At least saying it felt freeing, and for a few minutes I could imagine myself not caregiving.

I so wanted to walk out that door, but I knew I couldn’t leave my mother to my husband and children. They didn’t deserve that. I dreaded each day. I resented my family for getting to walk out the front door to jobs and school. It wasn’t pretty. No one wanted to be with me or engage me in conversation–not that I blamed them.

In some ways, my family kept me “honest.” They pitched in, rubbed my back, made dinner, took time to be with my mother so I could nap or stare into space. It was a time in our family that really tested us and showed me how much we needed and supported each other.

Where do you go from”I quit” when you can’t quit? 

There’s pretty much only three choices:

1. You either get help and lots of help (I had help, but keeping help that really helped, well that’s another post).

2. You find a care home–and as I said, you do have more options for free, low-cost, etc., but you need to ask for help and do your research–the care home can help guide you, but don’t just take their word. Check with elder-affairs and other state and community services to fully understand your options.

3. They die. Sounds harsh, I know. But what happened in my situation is that soon after this incredibly dark place, my mom lost her ability to swallow. I considered a feeding tube but decided that at 92 with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, that keeping her alive through a tube wasn’t something either of us wanted or needed. This occurred over six months or more, but I knew I had to see this through. It was a grueling time for all of us, but a necessary closure.

My decision to not use a feeding tube was not easy by any means. I grappled with this, if this was right, ethical. We brought in hospice, which I was surprised actually supported my decision. I worried about what others would think. I struggled with what this would do to my mother–if it would hurt–would she know? Would she be confused?

Saying “I quit” helped lift the little stopper off the pressure cooker. I had to say it several times–like a drowning man who’s more flailing than drowning–but then it became serious and I really was gulping water.

Seeking solutions (even if they didn’t work out or only helped for a short time) felt like action.

Having others (my family and friends) support me, reach out, and offer their arms to hold me convinced me I wasn’t alone.

And yes, there is a time to find that care home, to admit you’re done for, to allow them to die–if that time has come. Good old Ephesians was right. There’s a season for everything. No wonder this beautiful prayer was offered so long ago:

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal …
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance …
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

ecclesiastes 3:1-8

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If someone asked me that point blank, I think I’d say, “Am I Afraid to Die–literally or in theory?”

Most of us aren’t afraid of death per say, we’re afraid of dying. Will it hurt? What comes next? I don’t want my loved ones to hurt…those are the concerns that cause us to wince.

I was my mother’s daughter/full-time caregiver, and my mother passed away in my home with me beside her. I got a ring-side seat for this event and I am profoundly grateful for this. We try a little too hard to neatly contain the messiness of life and birth in our modern world, and we don’t know up-close what the entering or exiting of life looks like. I want to know. I do better knowing.

I was scared to death (word pun, here). I didn’t know if I could handle my mother’s passing. If you’re facing this–as a spouse, a daughter, a son, a dear friend–know that you can. It’s not scary. It’s holy. It’s quiet. It’s easy. It’s hard. I need to mention that it’s hard, but it’s a good hard. It feels like something you’re supposed to do.

Are there some less-than-pleasant biological factors involved? Can be. That’s why hospice is a great support for the end of life. But do know that they’re your support system. Don’t hand this over to them because you think you can’t handle it. Let them show you how.

 I believe it’s vital–after caregiving–to finish the process. You will come out “cleaner” from the experience if you see it through.

In theory, I know that death, (even mine) is inevitable. In theory, I know how a car works, but I sure couldn’t build an engine. Some things require trust that once you’re there, you’ll know what to do.

 I am a person of faith, but I don’t have the hard-fast beliefs I used to. I believe I’m eternal–in some form or another, and I’m less concerned about the location of my after-life. I figure it’s a great big universe, and whether I’m an atom or walking on streets of gold, I’ll be okay. I have a good feeling about it all, and I don’t have to comprehend the details because frankly, if my puny little mind can comprehend the magnificence of the afterlife, then it can’t be too impressive…and I’m looking forward to mind-blowing more than I can possibly comprehend–bring it because I know that eternity is going to be a-maze-ing. (a maze…)  

It’s the jumping off point that has me a bit concerned. Like most folks, I’m not ready to die–today.

 If given the choice, I’d like to hang around a little longer–a few decades, at least. I don’t think growing older makes you suddenly want to stop living either. The only people I know who are wiling to check out are those who have been in excruciating pain–physically or mentally.

 A few people go out gracefully. Their bodies wear out, their loved ones have already crossed over–and they make their peace and let go of this world as if waving goodbye to a dear friend you know you’ll see again soon. Very few. I’d like to be in these ranks, eventually. I’d like to not claw onto this world and the people who have loved and cared for me–I’d like not become a ravenous animal who won’t move on, but I’m not making any promises:)

It reminds me of the old American Indian saying when met with a battle that may end their life, when you know it’s coming, it’s best to take on the mentality, “It’s a good day to die.”  That’s what I’m aiming for when my time comes. I’d like to be the kind of person that recognizes it, steps up to the plate, and chooses to step off the ledge–rather than being pushed.

I think it’s important to ask yourself the question, “Am I Afraid to Die?” Don’t try to force an answer. It’s about pondering the question. Being afraid to die has a lot to do with being afraid to live–and that’s what has my head spinning.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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Medications lined up on the counter, canes, wheelchairs, hospital beds, portable potty chairs…at some point during the caregiving process your house stops looking like your home. It’s disconcerting in many levels: your loved one isn’t getting better, and it not only feels like you’re losing them, and on top of that, you’re losing a part of yourself as your house morphs into something unrecognizeable.

On top of that, your schedule is just plain wacky. Maybe you’re dealing with sundowning (when your elder loses their sense of night and sleep and actually gets more agitated and awake), or maybe you have a parade of home health aides or hospice personnel traipsing in and out all hours of the day and night. You appreciate the help, but it also means you have to stay dressed and be “on,” even when you feel like falling apart.

Then there are the endless doctor appointments, or maybe your loved one is in and out of the hospital or rehab. You barely get a decent routine established and bam, a month in the hospital and you have to start all over.

I experienced all of the above and I admit, I wasn’t Miss Keep-a-Perfect-House to begin with.

My mother was such a control and clean freak that it turned me off when I was a kid. Years later I figured out it was a personality difference: the structure she created made her feel safe–and it made me feel smothered. As an adult I had finally learned how to live in my own harmony–but then caregiving my mom with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s came into my life–along with raising three kids and a marriage–and trust me, order flew out the window.

Yeah, I used to beat myself up all the time about the sink full of dishes or the laundry not put away–oh and let’s not forget the dog hairs that clung to bottom of the toilet base (I hate that place!), or the piles and piles and piles of paperwork on my desk….

But I tapped into a different way of thinking that made me feel a whole lot better about myself.

If you brought me into a horribly messy room and told me to clean it up, I’d feel overwhelmed, avoid doing it, believe it would take me weeks to make a dent, or simply rebel.

But…if you brought me into that same horribly messy room and asked me if I could make it beautiful, my Geiger counter would go off the chart.

I would think along the lines of color, style, symmetrical and asymetrical lines.

I would think about what should go on the walls, and what should be put away. 

I would immediately recognize art pieces or family moments in the room that could and should be highlighted.

I would be excited and couldn’t wait to get started.

So I used that principle to get excited about aspects of caregiving.

After we called hospice, which of course was extremely hard and scary, and after I accepted that fact that my mother’s time on earth was limited, I began to look at her room and how I wanted it to “feel” during the last months of her life.

First, I decluttered. My mother liked more “things” than I did–knick-knacks–everything from garage sale goodies to valuable antiques and a gazillion family pictures crammed into her tiny apartment we built onto our house for her. I began to get them out of the way. I knew that we were literally fitting about 4-5 new people into our lives each week: a nurse, a home health aid for baths, a chaplin, and family and friends who would come by to visit. We needed space, and I needed to think straight.

Next, I put up a lace curtain over her bedroom window. She already had blinds, but I envisioned her lying peacefully under the morning sun and the lace curtain moving gently on a breeze. Poetic sounding and maybe even a bit sappy, but I needed this vision of beauty, especially at a time like this.

I put up one of those easy stick flower borders in her bedroom and brought in my favorite lap blanket and a few books of art and poetry (Mother’s Bible was already there, and a picture of her mother she had grown attached to) my journal, and a small vase of wildflowers so that when I was sitting with her, I had a bit of my creature comforts nearby.

Things were feeling better. I had created my own sense of order (the papers were still piled on my desk, I assure you), but I had focused on beauty, and for me, that brings joy and peace and was at a time when I desparately needed a little bit of both. 

Did my mother notice? I’m not sure, but this was for me. This was so I could sit and hum a familiar song, swab her mouth with Vaseline and wipe her face and arms with a cool cloth. This was so I could do all the things I needed to do.

My mother was pretty out of it those last few weeks (the end of Alzheimer’s had caused my mother to forget how to eat and eventually swallow). But I noticed that the more I made this a haven for me, I didn’t dread sitting next to her. I could sit with a cup of tea, my blanket, my journal, and read her a Psalm, look out the window with the lace curtain, and be present in this very important time in our lives.

What motivates you? What helps you think clearly and move easily?

Do your surroundings resemble a hospital ward or a home?

What makes you feel safe?

 What’s your idea of order–or beauty? It may be very different from mine, but I hope you find yours.

~Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother: A Daughters Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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Most people, in fact 85% don’t want to go into a nursing home–that’s what they used to call them.

Many of our seniors cringe at the word and imagine long, dark halls, people screaming, sitting in soiled diapers, horrible food, and being abused. Thank goodness, this is not the norm–and there’s more vigilance to report elder abuse and substandard care today.

According to surveys done by AARP, most of us would prefer to Age in Place–meaning, stay in our homes  and augment care as needed–a mix of family caregiving, professional caregiving services, adult day cares, and other elder-care community based resources.

I highly recommend staying at home, including various elements of family caregiving, paid care, and community care–but I do know that there are times and circumstances when this just isn’t enough.

What Are the Different Kinds of Care Facilities–and Which One Is Right For my Loved One?

Contining Care or Graduated Care is when you buy into a community in which you can choose your living condition (small home or condo at first), and then “trade” it in when/if your care needs increase. Within one “complex” you might see homes or duplexes, condos or apartments, a building (care facility) that houses many units of care, and all these may be near a hospital or hospice facility. These are usually a large development and can offer meals, hired care workers, transportation, activities, and other amenities.

Assisted Living is similar and can be a part of graduated care. Assisted living can be houses/duplex, condos/care facility where the person has their own apartment but has access to additional help. There may be a place for meals, a van for transportation, and non-skilled care workers can be hired to do various needs and levels of care. Some assited living and care facilities are individually owned while others are a part of a larger corporation.

Care Facility or Skilled Nursing Care is considered a full-care facility and is what people think of when they say, “nursing home.” They can be a part of other facilities, such as the continuing care, or assisted living home, but they have the added component of a skilled nursing staff (RN’s–registered nurses) as well as non-skilled care, usually called CNA’s (Clinical Nurse’s Assistant). Care facilities are for people who have medical needs, have severe mobility issues (can’t walk, falls), and need supervision as well as medical care. They often have a staff of doctors and other care workers who will come to visit them, prescribe medications, and offer in-house treatments such as physical therapy.

Memory Disorder Facility or Center can be a part of an assisted living or care facility and focuses on the needs and care of people with neurological disorders such as brain injuries, advanced Parkinson’s or Lewy Body, Alzheimer’s and dementia.This facility has the feature of secured doors and exits so that people who tend to wander can’t leave. They specialize in dealing with the behavoiral, psychological and physical issues that come with neurological disorders. Since this is an area that overlaps, many of their clients need medical care/skilled nursing care/visiting doctors, etc.

Rehabilitation Facility is usually a short term facility that focuses on people recovering from surgeries, accidents, and for those who need various care treatments such as physical or occupational rehabilitation therapies. They are a “half way” facility people go to when they’re not quite ready to go home, or need more care than a graduated or assisted living facility offers. Most rehabilitation facilities are corporate owned and work closely with hospitals and doctors. 

How Do I Assess If My Loved One Should Go Into a Care Facility?

  1. They choose a graduated/continual care or assisted living on their own.
  2. They have no family nearby and no one can or will coordinate their care (don’t forget how helpful geriatric care managers can be in figuring out various stage of care and evaluating care facilities)
  3. They need full-time care, perhaps with needs of skilled nursing care as well–and this has become too much to manage for a loved one to deal with.
  4. Their dementia/Alzheimer’s has increased to a level to where they’re not manageable at home–violent, escapes, can’t be managed by one care helper–needs more supervision, medication, and physical control than the family/and caregivers can provide.
  5. Are at the late stages of various diseases/aren’t mobile/and the family can’t manage their care–perhaps hospice is involved and there are end of life and palliative care needs (pain management).
  6. You, the family caregiver simply can’t do it anymore–your own health or finances are falling apart and you’ve done all you can.

There are valid reasons for your loved one to enter a care facility.

You have not failed as a caregiver–nor are you “done” when your loved one enters a care center/facility.

Your loved one needs you more than ever to oversee their care and make sure they are safe, respected, and receiving all the care they need and deserve.

Also know that the first care facility may not be your last one–it may not be a good fit, you may have to change and try a different one. Also, as time goes on and their care increases, you may have to move them again.

Don’t forget that hospice and palliative care is still needed (and must be asked for) to supplement their care at the end of life.

You may also consider letting them come “home” to die.

You  have many options.

Helpful Links:

Great article:

newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/faced-with-caregiving-even-experts-struggle/  

~Carol O’Dell, Author of Mothering Mother–an Amazon Bestseller in Alzeimer’s and Aging Parents.

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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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