Grief can be caused by many things, and one of the first things I grieved for (aside from lost and deceased pets) was the loss of my mother’s health when she had her first stroke in 2005.
Eighteen years later, and the onset of dementia in 2009, and with the loss of my father recently, there has been a lot of change. Over the years, my father also developed cancer and had many causes to be in hospital. Once, both my father and mother were in hospital at the same time (different wings though, about a 15 minute walk from one ward to the next!).
What supported me?
Yoga wisdom, breath practice, essential oils, reiki practice, yoga mat practice, my pets and a supportive partner and community. I probably have missed some (many?) people / things that gave me support but definitely these are what comes to mind.
Saying that, I still care for my mother often when the helper has her day off. We are still both grieving (so is my brother) and it takes some effort to look after yourself and those around you in grief.
Here are a few things that help me.
Be totally present.
When you are caring for your ageing parent, and both of you are in grief, the most important thing is to try to be as present as possible. Someone once told me that the most precious thing you can give someone is your time, and that’s what you’re doing when you are in caregiving. You owe it to yourself and the person you’re caring for to be totally present.
What does this mean? It means to be mindful in the moment, giving all your attention to your parent (or ageing elder) and in quiet moments, asking how you can help, offering suggestions and – if they just want you to be there – just being there.
Once I was feeling very guilty for leaving my ageing dogs behind with my parents, and Eddy told me when I am with them, be 100 percent with them, giving them all of my attention.
This is difficult, isn’t it? How often are we totally present? It took some getting used to, but I managed it in the end. When I was with my dogs, as I stroked their fur, I felt the brittleness of their ageing hairs. I spoke to them with love, and was mindful to leave my devices far away from me.
After this, I practised this as much as I can with my ageing loved ones.
It is healing – for both you and your ageing loved one.
When my father was shunted from ward to ward in his final month, my brother had COVID-19 and I spent most of the caregiving time with him (together with my aunts and relatives). I picked a time when I knew nobody could visit and I spent all that time 100 percent with him – shaving him, talking to him, supporting him however I could or however he wished.
It was healing. I have never regretted time spent like this with anyone (or animal) ageing. I only ever leave the experience having a feeling of gratitude.
Try this and see, even for five minutes, with anyone who is in your care. You may find it a challenge at first (because how often are we thinking of other things, or fiddling with our devices?) but it is so worthwhile in the end.
Take moments off for yourself.
When caregiving – especially if you and your loved one are both grieving – take allocated times off for yourself. Caring for an ageing parent is tiring in itself, what more if both of you are in grief?
What I do – for example – is I know I need to clean and change my mother when I arrive, then prepare and feed her breakfast and ensure she takes her medication. This may take an hour.
So I am there fully present for her for an hour, then switch on some TV for her, and tell her I need to see to the dogs. Then I spend about 15 minutes with them – fully present – before I go to see to my mother’s needs again.
If she’s fine and settled down, then I sit down with her – this time not 100 percent present, but rather being with her as I work on my computer or my phone. And that can be our morning.
I may give myself another moment to just be or breathe before I start sorting out lunch, but it depends on how I feel.
Remember, if you’re not taken care of as the caregiver then if anything happens to you, there will be no one to care for your ageing loved one. So take moments off in the day for yourself when you can just totally switch from being caregiver to just being you.
Sometimes, while caring for someone you love, there may not be opportunity for ‘off-moments’ discussed above. Sometimes anger in grief may rise up from one person, leading the other to also react in anger. Or frustration. Or guilt and blame.
In these moments, especially if you’re mid-changing a diaper, you can’t say “you hang on while I take. a moment off”. What can you do?
Just stopping the flow of information from your ears to your brain, by directing your attention to your breath (rather than an outburst) can help reduce your stress and emotional levels.
My one-time business accountability partner, and mindfulness practitioner (who happens to be a doctor), Robyn Charlton, suggests we take an inhale for ourselves, and as we exhale we breathe for our ageing loved one.
Even if your loved one isn’t actively participating in this, you can practise this in your heart (while ignoring any outburst): breathe in for me, breathe out for you.
Try this, and let me know how it goes for you.
Find humour, gratitude and lessons.
If you are being totally present, you may be able to find humour in situations. Seniors say the funniest things, and also sometimes the wisest. Sometimes, they say something which is both humorous and wise.
When you are being totally present to your ageing parent – even if both of you are grieving – it won’t be difficult to find gratitude in each moment. There is so much to be grateful for, and sometimes , because we are so caught up in our grief or own thoughts, we don’t see it.
And even if humour or gratitude is hard to come by – even if you are being totally present – there is always something we can learn in the moment. It may take some effort, especially if we aren’t in good place or feel terrible, there is always something to be learnt.
That is why in yoga, there isn’t anything which is ‘bad’. Labelling impedes our capacity to grow sometimes.
There may be options for you to support your loved ones in both caregiving and aslo in grief. Let’s face it, both are highly specialised fields, and we just are doing the best we can.
Caregiving support can include someone helping you out, your family, spouse, children, relatives or someone professional coming in, even now and then.
You may want to look up organisations (including religious organistaions and NGOs) that provide this support, perhaps even for transportation for medical appointments or to help you lift and carry your ageing parent.
Use Google, ask your network, join Facebook or other social media groups and get support.
You may also consider talk therapy or other modalities of therapy for yourself to heal.
Grief support can include talk therapy (if youre ageing parent doesn’t have dementia) or maybe just other people visiting your ageing parent may cheer them up.
Do consider the same for yourself as you need to see to your own needs as well.
Grief on its own can be a burden to manage, let alone the grief of an ageing parent in your care. Look after yourself, try these methods, and let me know how it works, or contact me if there are other ways I can support you.
Expand your mornings with the Mindful Mornings mini-course below!
Included in the course:
- Yoga movement
- Morning meditation
- Mindful activities for the mornings