~Chronic Grief ~

When the process of dying takes years. . .

I don’t know if “chronic grieving” is technically accurate, but the experience of a raw broken heart is the norm for mourners whose loved one still lives, but is terminally diagnosed.  Typically illnesses such as terminal cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other mentally & physically debilitating conditions impact the healthy members of the family with a process of loss and grief.  As they watch the disease continue its ravishing work, accepting the changes and loss of the relationship is difficult work.  So just how should the chronic griever handle this relentless pain?

I have chatted with a few friends who are facing this experience.  For one it has been a decade of watching his wife steadily lose the capacity to love and behave appropriately in socially acceptable ways.  As he looks forward, he sees only increasing challenges on the horizon.  For another, the months have rolled into years of adjusting to her once capable father, turn into a stranger, as Alzheimer’s slowly overcomes its victim.  New losses add pain upon pain with a haunting uncertain future.   Often these chronic grievers keep their pain, questions, anger, doubts, and fears to themselves while the rest of us interact unaware of their deep needs.

One friend offered that a turning point of adjusting to living with chronic grief came after receiving accurate information about the disease that was in the process of stealing her loved one from her.  Another friend found a greater ability to adjust by having a few close friends he could talk to about the process.  These friends listened without judgment and offered support and validation to his thoughts, questions and feelings.

Even the word, “chronic” leaves a relentless after taste in my mind.  How would I manage?  I don’t know.  But, I do know that I would want emotionally safe people to surround me.  I know that understanding the truth about the disease would prepare me and could even free me from unrealistic expectations.  Staying connected to a support group could also validate my experience so I wouldn’t feel so alone in the process. Holding on to faith and trust that God’s grace is enough to get me through each day would be the spiritual reality needed most.  We are not alone as we watch each progressive loss, and each new lesser level of living with our loved ones.  God is the faithful “I am.”  He is present in the moments that add up to years. He is Emmanuel, God with us. His love will outlast our long term chronic grieving.  Always and forever.

Doctor Examining an Elderly Patient

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