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My personal experience with grief and dementia

Why did I pursue studies in grief? Being a Child of Holocaust Survivors, I had a lot of exposure to loss. Most of my mother’s and father’s family members perished in the Holocaust. I experienced this trauma as a second generation offspring growing up in an environment where the Holocaust was not spoken of but I felt the situational loss and embedded grief.

In addition to professionally drawing from a strong academic grief background in assisting dementia family caregivers, I could also draw from personal experience. I was a family caregiver for my father, Hershel Silverberg. Harry spent his last four years going through a “living death” after receiving a diagnosis of dementia.

I found it particularly “gut wrenching”, like other family members, to move my father out of his “pride of ownership” home into residential care. The day my brother, Jerry and I moved my father out of his home into residential care was one of the hardest days of my life.

After several months, Hershel settled in. Nevertheless, my guilt feelings remained as I watched my father’s decline, feeling that in some way moving him out of his home caused the decline.

For nearly a year, I lived with the uneasiness and guilt until one day I spoke with a gentleman who knew Harry as an acquaintance. I do not even know his name but this gentleman changed my thinking. I recall him saying to me with conviction, “Do you really think you made that decision? If your father was healthy, he would never have moved into the residence.

He made that decision, not you!” Regardless if his words were fact or fiction, I no longer felt guilty. You just never know where the assistance is going to come from

My professional and personal experience led me to devise the 3-A Approach to address loss situations like this and the countless other situations that dementia caregivers face. I have presented the 3-A Approach at a number of conferences and it has been well received.

As an author, I have written about the dementia caregiving experience, combining the grief and caregiving literature with the intention of assisting caregivers to cope by raising grief awareness and addressing their ambiguous, situational loss and their grief.

My article entitled Introducing the 3-A Grief Intervention Model for Dementia Caregivers: Acknowledge, Assess and Assist waspublished in 2007 in the Omega Journal of Death and Dying, Vol. 54

Since writing the article, I realize that the 3-A Approach can be applied in so many other caregiving situations, offering assistance to family members of adults with other chronic mental and progressive neurological illnesses.

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