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Managing grief and caregiving

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Grief is a natural response to a terminal diagnosis and losing a loved one. However, it may be compounded for caregivers by the loss of their identity, relationships, and the future they had planned. It’s common for caregivers to experience a range of emotions as they grapple with the sudden changes and unexpected challenges of supporting a loved one in the last stage of life. Caregiver grief can feel like sadness, overwhelm, frustration, anger, withdrawal, or guilt. For Beate, the anticipatory grief she experienced while caring for her mother with pancreatic cancer was draining. “It was exhausting,” she said. “The sense that things are going to change, but you don’t know when – and the emotions that come with it.” It can be intense, immensely sad and tiring, so many caregivers don’t let themselves acknowledge what they are feeling. But talking about grief can help you process and learn to live with your loss.  Acknowledge your loss Violet Guide Tessa helped her bereaved friend come to terms with the loss of her husband by talking openly about her grief. “We talked about how fearful she was to let her feelings out. She stored up feelings of grief while staying with family and tried to bury her grief in painkillers and alcohol because her loss and the reality of life without her husband was too great for her to bear.” For many caregivers, talking honestly about their grief also allows them to process what it feels like to lose their identity, their previous life and the future they imagined for themselves and their loved one. Lean into your sorrow Sharing the emotional pain and sorrow of losing her love allowed Tessa’s friend to accept grief as a fixture in her life, not a temporary visitor. Tessa explained that when her friend realised grief was here to stay, she could be her authentic self. “She could wail and weep openly. She could bring her husband back into her life with loving gestures and caring thoughts that only come when grief has swept away the residue of shock, horror and disbelief.” Grief comes and goes in waves. It’s not always easy. But talking about it opens the door to new experiences and offers the possibility of a new perspective. For Tessa’s friend talking about grief helped her recognise the new person that she has become – a widow, a bereaved woman. “It was a good start. She won’t have to hide this from the world. She can wear her grief as a black arm band, honouring the man who has passed,” Tessa said. Get the support you need Grief can feel lonely unless we talk about it. Having honest, meaningful conversations about how you’re feeling means people can be there for you. It opens the door so you can receive the love and support you need. Violet Guide and Trainer Rose Dillon believes it allows us to be there for each other long after the funeral.  “Once the funeral is over and time passes, the bereaved person has less and less opportunity to tell their story, but they may need to over and over again to help make sense of their situation,” she said.  When you’re grieving, each day can feel different. Of course, there’ll be days when it seems manageable, and a chat with someone who cares is soothing for the soul, but if your grief feels too much for you to bear, an experienced mental health professional can help.  Clinical psychologist Dr Phoebe Lau says sharing your experience with a friend, counsellor or support group helps you cope because it “helps the brain structure that information and process what is going on.”  Violet Guides can also help you tell your story, normalise how you feel, and help you gently reflect on your new life without your loved one. * * * About Violet Violet is a national social enterprise, making a positive contribution to the last stage of life. The Violet Initiative (Violet) exists to reduce regretful outcomes in the last stage of life for Australians, their caregivers and their families. Violet provides free services, programs and resources to anyone in the community who is caring for someone in the last stage of their life (in either an informal or formal role) to help them be better prepared and supported on their journey. * * * This information was extracted with permission from Violet.

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