Dealing with Loss in Lay and Professional Roles
Everyone loses a loved one at some time or another. As practicing psychologists for many years, the authors have often helped others deal with loss. Maybe we should be used to it. But not so. When experiencing our own losses, we found ourselves reacting just like our patients.
Regardless of education or experience, the death of loved ones hits hard. When the sense of loss overwhelms people, they rely on help from case managers. They can depend on you for help to deal with the overwhelming details and decisions that accompany caregiving and death.
But the person closest to loss is not the only sufferer. Loss, and the accumulation of many losses over time, takes a toll on the case manager. This article offers some suggestions for caregivers and for case managers to cope when illness and death occur.
Americans tend to be doers. Getting the job done is the priority. All too often, feelings get pushed away in the effort to accomplish some goal.
Taking care of a loved one or watching a loved one die brings up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings that run the gamut from sadness, anger, guilt and even relief. Emotions that get pushed aside tend to go on for too long or become too severe. When this happens, emotions can interfere with caretaking. For example, the person burdened by sadness may have difficulty finding the energy and motivation to care for the loved one. Guilt and anger can create inner turmoil that sometimes leads to poor decision-making.
Talking, journaling, and getting those feelings “out there” help with positive expression of emotions. Once uncomfortable feelings are expressed, caretakers are better able to take in information and make decisions. This reduces the sense of being overwhelmed.
When working with feelings, stress the importance of talking with trusted family members, friends, clergy, and support groups. When these natural supports fail, caregivers need a referral to an experienced helping professional.
Living in Crisis Mode
Caring for a chronically or terminally ill family member means that emergencies will crop up. Whenever possible, caregivers need to be forewarned so that they can make room in their daily routine for crises.
When emergencies become more of a marathon rather than a sprint, the caregiver’s tactics need to change. Learning how to survive weeks or even
months in emergency mode takes energy, knowledge and skill. Caregivers need help to learn how to incorporate strategies such as taking breaks and providing time for self. Only when caregivers commit to taking care of themselves will they be able to refresh and recharge. Relaxation must be viewed as a necessity rather than an option.
Finding ways to maintain a sense of normalcy can mean the difference between burnout and severe reaction to loss and meeting caretaking responsibilities with resilience. Whenever possible, urge caretakers to call on other family members to share the burden. In time, asking for this help may aid other family members to know that everyone did the very best possible.
Good self-care and the comforting balm of routine become more important than ever during times of caretaking and loss. Diet, exercise, sleep and personal medical care are critical. A well-placed mental health day can make all the difference. Caretakers may need encouragement to take these necessary steps. The loss of a loved one doesn’t happen often and few are prepared to take time for self.