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  • Writer's picturePatricia Ptak

The Process of Grief

Grief is a concept there has subjective implications based on your experience. If someone you love passes suddenly, you experience a lot of shock, disbelief and a deeply broken heart. When someone that you love pass slowly from a terminal illness you grieve their sickness, loss of quality of life, their pain and their suffering for months and years and then they die, which leaves a hole in your heart. Years ago Elizabeth Kubler Ross developed stages a person goes through when they know they are dying and popular culture grabbed that idea and used it to try to explain the cycle of grief that we feel with loss. It's not the same. For four years I helped take care of my mother who lived in Michigan, whom had an inoperable glioblastoma brain tumor. I witnessed her going through those stages at Ross described and I felt powerless except to let her know that she was loved. I changed jobs 3 times to be more available and fortunately developed my private practice to afford more flexability in my schedule.

I would call and talk with her every day, some days all she could say is "I love you" over and over. Her language center was where the tumor was located, it destroyed her speech almost immediately, however she could understand what we said. My father was thrust into a role of a caregiver, my sister living two miles away was their constant reference for help and guidance for appointments. For 2 years we used countless flashcards to maintain some ability for her to communicate, she would practice writing our names over and over. She recovered enough to have 2 knee replacements due to horrific arthritis and excruciating pain. She got back to daily walks, eventually collapsing due to tumor growth. She tore her PCL and was unable to walk independently. For ten moths we transferred her to her wheelchair from the bed, to the chair, to the commode and back. Right before she entered hospice she buckled, and slowly fell as I held her. I wouldn't let her fall, I slowly lowered her to the ground. The weight tore my rotator cuff, and re-injured my shoulder injury from the last visit when I had to pick her up. My sister and father both struggled with moving her and both hurt their backs.

We cared for her at home, she was in hospice for 7 months, surviving with half a brain, no function on her right side and complete dependence on us to change her, feed her, dress and bathe her. Hospice eventually provided bathing once a week, everything else was on us. I went back to Michigan 37 times in 4 years to help with my mom, leaving my husband and son to care for our animals and home. Countless trips to the airport at 4 am, my patient and supportive husband then went straight to work. Watching my fiercely independent mother go from 5 workouts a week and 5 mile walks a day to bedridden was the worst. Hearing her beg God to return her eyesight to her eye, that she lost after a bout with shingles following chemo still haunts me. We hear of people having cancer, going for radiation and chemo and eventually passing, in no way possible were we ready or could comprehend how horribly traumatic this process is. Cancer affects everyone in the family, not just the patient. As a therapist I've always been able to use what I've gone through to empathize and connect with people, this experience was not a waste, as I can help others navigate these dark and stormy waters.

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