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  • Writer's pictureAmy Clark

On Caregiving and Dealing with the Loss of Our Parents and Loved Ones

Updated: Jan 10, 2020

As many of us in the “baby boom” generation know, we are all living longer than our grandparents did. We’re finding ourselves in the unenviable position of having to take care of our aging parents both emotionally and financially----tasks that many of us have been unprepared for. To top it off, we live in a culture where the subject of death incites fear and panic!

For some reason, the very brightest of us seem to forget that there is a Circle of Life. Transitioning from the physical is inevitable and in most other cultures, a known and noble rite of passage! I don’t know about you, but I was brought up to believe that death was the big scary elephant in the room! It would squash you down if you even dared to look it in the eye, let alone tackle its meanings and implications. In spite of the fact that I watched my grandfather die a slow and prolonged death when I was young, I was utterly ill equipped to understand, to process my feelings and find a place for the loss. I was left floating on a sea of religious guilt and fear without any map! Later as a young adult watching my mom pass in a similar fashion, I still felt so alone and bereft of guidance, navigating this known, everyday occurrence. I had to really dig deep to deal with the loss, pain and sadness and figure out how to redefine my life without my mom on this earth with me. Sogyal Rinpoche writes in “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” “Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique, and separate identity—but if we dare to examine if, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless collection of things to prop it up, our name, our “biography,” our partners, family, home, job, friends, credit cards……It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security so when they are all taken away, will we have any idea of who we really are?” Does this sentiment resonate for you? If you were to really know who you are and your place on this earth, would it make a difference? Rinpoche goes on to quote William Blake: “He who binds to himself a Joy, Does the winged life destroy; He who kisses the Joy as it flies, Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.” The fact is we are not alone in dealing with loss! It happens to every one of us without fail! Beyond falling back on our family teachings, religious beliefs, etc, at the end of the day we have each other to turn to and help us find meaning out of what can feel like utter madness! This month’s Circle provided the following recommendations with regard to caregiving:

  • Turn to support from others who have been through the experience

  • Create boundaries for yourself while caretaking. Make sure you leave time to nurture and care for yourself in ways that work for you individually ie, getting adequate sleep, exercising, dancing, yoga, spending time with family and friends, meditating

  • Seek closure with the person transitioning—airing past hurts, resentments and fears—getting everything left unsaid out on the table!

  • Let yourself mourn and emote your feelings. Its natural and normal to do so

When dealing with imminent death of a parent or loved one:

  • Turn to the support from others who have been through the experience

  • Address the fear surrounding the situation. Look it in the eye and ask yourself the tough questions about what you’re feeling and afraid of

  • Let your loved one know all will be well and it’s okay for them to move on

  • Tap in to connecting with your loved one when they have passed or gain insights from others who have been able to connect with “the other side” in order to gain an understanding and trust that those who have passed can always be with us

Recommended Reading: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen The Theft of Memory-Losing My Father one Day at a Time by Jonathan Kozol Oh My God: We’re Parenting Our Parents: How to Transform this Remarkable Challenge into a Journey of Love by Jane Wolf Waterman, MSW, JD How to Care for Aging Parents: 3rd Edition. A One Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues by Virginia Mans

Death is of Vital Importance by Elizabeth Kubler –Ross and other books by this author Books by author Stephen Levine

Medical Care of the Soul: A Practical and Healing Guide to End-of-Life Issues for Families, Patients, and HealthCare Providers by Bruce G, Bartlow, M.D.

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