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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

When Relief Doesn't Come

**This blog post is part of a series on death after a long illness.  This was written while going through the experience.  Just as I shared the journey of losing my Grandma to dementia, I am sharing our journey to healing as well as any tips or lessons learned that helped us cope with the loss.  Your experience may be different.**

I feel like we as a society want to sweep the aftermath of a death under the rug.  It makes us uncomfortable to see how deep grief goes and it's easier if we can pretend that once the funeral is over people just get back to their lives.  If one person is helped by this, it's worth it.

You know when you go through a long illness with someone, and the prayers turn from "do something to save them" to "take them, so they don't suffer anymore?"  It is usually a pretty drastic turn either in quality of life or appearance (or both) that lead to those prayers changing.  Something has changed that tells you hope or the person you knew is gone.  It's gut-wrenching, and you can feel guilty for feeling that way, but it's out of deep love for the person that you don't want them to suffer any further.  We tell ourselves that even though we know it will be hard when they're gone, anything will be better than the hell they are going through here.  We tell ourselves we'll be relieved when it happens.

That's a lie.  (At least it was in our case.  Your mileage may vary.)

Sorry.  I want to try to sugar coat it but I don't sugar coat turds and this, my friends, is a big fat turd of life.  I'm nothing if not eloquent.  The last time I saw Grandma when she was alive was nothing short of devastating and horrifying.  She lost so much weight so fast toward the end, she was almost unrecognizable.  I remember when my mom came out of the guest room with her sisters that she hugged me and told me she almost didn't call me because of how bad she looked because she knew I wouldn't want to see her that way but wanted to give me the option.  Then when she saw how upset I was but that I said my goodbyes, she said "my God, I almost took the option away.  I almost didn't call."  I assured her it was okay and that I wouldn't have been mad.  I'm not going to lie...the selfish part of me 99% regrets seeing her that way.  The Mr asked the next day if I regretted going and I cried and said yes.  The 1% of me that made the decision to go did it for Grandma.  I did it because I knew she needed to feel the love of her family before she left and it was my time to tell her how much I loved her.  It was time to show her by my presence at a time that wasn't a holiday, that it was okay to let go.

When I found out three hours later, I wasn't surprised, and I told myself I was glad I did it because she felt like she could move on with our blessings.  I told myself I will be relieved she wasn't suffering anymore.  I dreaded going in to see her at the funeral home, but I knew by seeing the shell of a woman I saw in that bed, it would bring me some relief that she was no longer fighting that wretched disease.  But when we saw the funeral home had physically restored her to almost look like her old self, that thought of relief went out the window.  It made it so much harder to see her look so good if that makes any sense.  It reminded us we were robbed of almost 8 years with her being herself and now that she was looking like hurt.  I knew it would probably be that way, and I'd need to process her loss in the coming week(s), but maybe then it would change.  Nope.  As you go through the fog that resembles a life after you lose someone you're close to, your brain is almost completely shut down.  I would stand with the fridge open to make breakfast and honestly could not remember how to make a PB&J.  Pouring cereal and milk was too much to compute.  I would look at my screen with work piling up, and I would lose 30 minutes.  This showed you when you last had activity, and I would look down after having apparently stared at the page for 30 minutes in the blink of an eye.

I've spent weeks in a mental fog so deep, it scared me.  I spent times saying I was fine when I wasn't so other people wouldn't have to feel my suffering.  I forced smiles so as not to bring others down.  I spent time wondering if the revelation of what Grandma had asked me would come back to bite me and spent time waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I've spent weeks fighting emotional eating demons which I gave in to for about three days from the day of her funeral on, but the urge to binge on every single thing was strong.  I am still struggling to keep fighting even though I know a bag of Oreos will not bring her back.   I want to not feel so lost and cheated.  Imagine losing the last eight years of your life.  Then imagine the only send off you get being botched hard by the person who was supposed to bring comfort to everyone.  No, I'm still not over that, and you wouldn't be if it were your parent or grandparent either.  I hope no one ever has to experience that, ever.

I thought as I would come out of this stupor that things would get easier.  That as I logically thought about the hell she was experiencing that I would eventually be awash with a spiritual acceptance of this journey I watched from afar.  I would feel some sense of peace and/or relief that would eventually comfort me.  That has not happened.  When you say "it'll be a blessing when they go" because you want them to have peace, you realize it's just something all people tell themselves, and maybe they believe it.  I did.  But then you come to understand that losing someone you love, no matter what vile disease or circumstance, leaves you with this unbelievable void you will never fill.  A part of you dies with them.  A part you that you can never get back.  You can honor them by living your best life or carrying on traits of them in you, but it's never the same.  Even not having any true communication with her for three years, it's knowing she was just down the street that made the difference.  Even with me not being able to have a conversation with her, when they're gone, they're gone, and it guts you.  I'm not telling anyone this to take away hope or to grind in some harsh reality.  I'm just doing as I've always done and sharing my truth, and with this situation telling yourself you'll be relieved is a false expectation.  It makes sense at the time, but it does very little to comfort you as you try to anchor yourself into your new reality.

I just want comfort.  I want that relief I thought I'd feel.

Relief that may never come.

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  1. It was a bit of a double edged sword in that I was happy that they did such a good job and made her look like her old self again, which is what you want for that situation. But it also had the effect of making us see her as herself with no doubt that she was gone and it jump started the grief process. I think sharing this might help anyone else in this situation to at least be prepared for that possibility which, I admit, I did not see coming at all.

    1. Yes it was. It was very hard seeing her look like the disease never got her especially when it's been so long since she looked like her old self. I don't think people are properly prepared for that when someone goes through a long illness and their appearance changes. If the funeral home is skilled enough and has their own Rico on board, the grieving game is upped because the person you remembered is right there in front of you. I hope sharing that can help someone else not be so taken aback by how someone being physically restored can actually make it harder.

  2. *hugs* I have no words of comfort or wisdom to offer, but I didn't want you to think I didn't read or don't want to support you.

  3. It's tough. And it takes time. Keep writing your feelings out and keep reaching out to the Mr. We're here for you.

    1. It is tough for sure. I feel the fog lifting a little which is a relief and almost at her nudging sometimes. I'll be doing a few posts about the grief process to help others just as I did through her battle with the disease. Thank you so much for your support!

  4. I think it might be time for help. Do you have a therapist you have used in the past? Even though you have your Mr. and can write things out here, I think you need a therapist to help. I see one all the time. My kids use one when they have a major transition time, and it really helps.

    I am very sorry for your loss. I had a favorite grandma too. It is tough.

    And it is very interesting about the funeral home restoration. So clearly it should have just been a closed casket? From what you experienced?

    1. Oh no, not at all! She looked amazing and that was the problem. When you've gone through a long illness with someone and they don't look remotely like themselves for years, you're used to them looking that way. But through the "prep" process we'll call it, the funeral home made her look the way she did before she got sick, which comforted everyone. But what I was trying to convey is that you need to be prepared for that. It brought out many emotions we all weren't prepared before. It brought back the person we loved and remembered for so long which made the feelings of relief we thought we'd feel take a backseat. I'm glad she looked that way because it's what she wanted, was to look beautiful in her casket just like she told her friend. I'm glad she was able to get her wish.

  5. Again, let me say how sorry I am for your loss. We all process grief a little bit differently, yet it's something we all share.

    My grandmother suffered horribly with Alzheimer's for many years and watching her disappear was brutal. It's 7 years this month, and I still miss her so much. I will say our experience was different from yours in that both mom and I did feel a sense of relief when she was gone. I wouldn't wish what we saw on anyone.

    I am not saying there is anything "wrong" with what you are feeling, I just wanted to say that for some people that relief is genuine - it's not necessarily an empty promise offered up, it's just that you didn't (haven't) experienced that.

    Take care.

    1. I'm sorry you had to be touched by that horrible disease and I'm am heartily glad that you felt relief.

      By sharing my experience in that relief has not come for us, it is to prepare others that are counting on that feeling to get through the disease, that they need to be prepared that it may be a misplaced expectation.

  6. I can relate to the lack of relief after I lost my loved one. I thought I'd feel this great sense of being able to take a deep breath, but what I realized is that I felt it for her, but not for me. She wasn't suffering anymore, but she warned me that it's the people left behind who do suffer, and there's no time table for it. It's taken a couple of years, and while I still don't feel relief in the same sense I thought I would, my gratefulness that she isn't suffering anymore is stronger. She wasn't herself in the end because of the brain mets, so the core of who she was had changed while I was desperately wishing for five more minutes of the person I truly knew. But the disease ripped her away from me. I'm so thankful her struggle is over, but the relief aspect isn't what I thought it would be. It's more like thankfulness and emptiness at the same time, which sounds weird, I know.


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