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"Married Widows": Uncovering their Buried Losses

Strength comes out of working through adversity and loss. To assist in empowering family caregivers, I emphasize loss and grief processing as a pivotal element for their strength-building regimen. Nobody has physically died so you may be asking yourself: why grief? It has been found that grief is a major barrier faced by those who are caring for family members with serious chronic illnesses. The grief gets buried, though, under care demands.

Just as there are benefits for miners who work at digging up precious stones, there are benefits for family caregivers who work at uncovering the losses and grief that gets buried under the care demands. Benefits may include increased energy, relief, comfort and peace from unburdening the emotional pain that encompasses the grief experience.

I developed the 3-A "Selfie" Coping Tool so you can shovel up the buried losses and grief that tug at your heart strings. With this tool, you can "self" monitor with "self" awareness using the 3-A's - Acknowledge, Assess, Assist.

A major assumption of the 3-A tool is that wherever there is adversity, there is situational loss™.

Situational loss is the loss of a person, thing or quality, resulting from alteration of a life situation, including changes related to – in addition to death – illness, body image & environment.

The Mosby’s Medical Dictionary 8th ed. (2009)

The 'things' and 'qualities' lost relates to what the chronically ill person represented in the family caregiver's life and the effects of the changes due to the illness. To illustrate, Tibor was a carer I was assisting in processing his losses/grief while he was caring for his spouse who was diagnosed with early onset dementia under the age of 60. In a Voice America’s Family Caregivers Unite! online interview we did together, he acknowledged many losses including loss of companionship and the roles his spouse played as a life partner.

Spouses lose the companionship and intimacy that played a significant part in their marriage. I have often heard spouses of people with dementia such as Tibor say, “I am married, but I am not married,” especially after there has been the move to a long-term-care facility due to the decline in health status. As "married widows", they are left involuntarily to fend for themselves.

Acknowledging, assessing and assisting through situational loss helps in uncovering and clarifying unclear losses, removing the ambiguity by associating reactions to life-altering situations related to the illness. It is difficult enough just to be experiencing loss without having others not acknowledge that loss is occurring. If you assess and acknowledge yourself as experiencing losses stemming from your family members illness, share and seek assistance, if required, to work through uncovering the buried grief. Strengthened resiliency comes through self-monitoring with self-awareness, processing the grief which not only is a benefit to you but also to the family member who is depending on your care.

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