A couple of months after my mother (aka "Mumsie" in GreyHawk-speak) passed, I was invited to participate in a grief support group sponsored by my childhood church. At first I balked because I've always disliked public demonstrations of grief, but after I thought about it, I thought, why not?
I should have listened to my gut after that first meeting.
The youngest there by at least 20 years, I sat in a circle with mostly women. Some were silent like me, but there were others who made it a point to "cry on cue". If they weren't crying, they were babbling a mile a minute about their deceased loved one. I winced throughout that first session. Their grief seemed so profound, so heartwrenching that I instantly put up my psychic shield, lest it infected me.
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CareGiving Kos is a community diary series posted generally on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening by volunteer diarists. This group & series is for those who are now (or have been) in the role of being a care-giver for a loved one. We want this space to be supportive and free of squabbles. Our only rule is to be kind to yourself and others who are going through a very difficult time. Please respect the concept of this group: No Politics Here.†
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During the second meeting, The Wailers, as I'd mentally termed them, came out in full force. They dominated the portion of the meeting where we sat in small groups and, in turn, each of us was supposed to tell the group something about our loved one. They dominated the Q & A portion. As we adjourned, one of the facilitators noticed my unease.
"Why do you let them do that?" I asked. "They're not the only ones grieving here."
The facilitator nodded. "They're suffering from what's known as complicated grief. Most of them follow us from church to church. They're stuck in the process, and we cannot turn them away. Their loved ones passed many, many years ago, and they're still grieving."
Stuck in the process of grieving.
According to Grief-Healing-Support:
Complicated Grief or Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) may occur when normal grief and loss processes appear to become 'stuck' and the symptoms continue unresolved for months and perhaps years.
The nature and closeness of the relationship you had with your loved one (such as the death of a partner, child or parent) and the nature of death (for instance a tragic death) may also prolong the grieving process.
If the usual feelings of disbelief, loss, anguish and bitterness over your loss do not go away after six months or more, and if you have difficulty functioning normally, you may have symptoms of Prolonged Grief Disorder (or Complicated Grief).
I lived with my mother for most of my life. She was widowed. I was her only child. The natural inclination for a parent to let a child spread his or her wings, so to speak, didn't exist in our relationship. I couldn't leave her to fend for herself, even though she was quite capable of doing such years and years before the dementia surfaced. At the same time I was a self-conscious, timid young woman who couldn't quite grasp the concept of letting myself bloom into who I was supposed to become. My mother sacrificed much for me -- she paid for most of my schooling and let me live rent-free (OK, I paid her weekly board when I started working regularly -- that went for groceries and the occasional household bill, neither of which I realized until I took over the checkbook). She never let on about her financial difficulties, even though we took vacations to Europe and the Caribbean. I, in turn, was her daily company. I didn't want her to be alone. I didn't want to be alone.
For anyone who could not respond to earlier losses without losing emotional equilibrium, complicated grief becomes a greater danger. So a person with a history of depression, anxiety disorders, or a personality disorder is more likely to suffer complicated grief after bereavement, as well as PTSD after a traumatic experience.
My mother, as well as everyone in her family, had a history of clinical depression and/or mood disorders in an era where one never acknowledged their existence. I didn't discover until well into adulthood that she suffered from severe postpartum depression from after my birth until I was past toddlerhood. My grandmother's death a few years later sent her into an emotional tailspin. When my father passed, both she and I disappeared into an emotional black pit. We never discussed it, but we both witnessed what the effects of that black pit had on each other.
I do remember one particular phrase my mother would utter in reference to either my grandmother or my father: "Part of me died that day."
From Psychology Today:
The symptoms, says Mary-Frances O'Connor, an assistant professor in psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA's medical center, are unique in their intensity. "They include an extreme yearning for the deceased, loneliness, even searching for the deceased in a crowd, and intrusive thoughts about the deceased."
Complicated grievers may feel that life has lost its meaning. "They will often say, 'I feel like part of myself died with the person,'" O'Connor says. People who were emotionally dependent on the person who passed away particularly at risk of developing complicated grief.
My mother was never quite herself for the last few decades of life before dementia. I certainly know I haven't been quite myself since her passing; if anything, I consciously avoid talking about her in real life because I too could easily become one of The Wailers: I have that heartwrenching wail down pat. Just ask GreyHawk.
I avoid talking about our book Her Final Year: A Caregiving Memoir both in real life and online because I don't want to publicly declare I'm stuck in the process of grieving. Like The Wailers, I'm afraid if I start talking, I won't be able to stop. I don't want to push people away with that, so I remain silent. It's easier to do, of course, online, but anyone who knows me knows it's simmering just under the surface.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I don't participate in this group as often as I should. I'm sorry I don't market the book as I should, especially since I'm a co-author. I feel like I've let everyone down, especially my mother. Would she understand? I have no idea, and the fact that I don't have any idea troubles me.