Winning, When Losing a Loved One

When we lose a loved one, not a second goes by without being reminded of the loss.

Your mind reminds you, as constantly as the human mind can. Even if you can tame that down, everybody, with good intentions, reminds you. And, it’s only worse in the digital age. Calls, texts, emails, social media, condolence cards, impromptu grocery store chats: “Sorry for your loss.” “I heard about your loss.” “Things seemed to be going well, I’m surprised we lost her.”

My brothers and I, and my wife and our sons, “lost” our mother two months ago. After six months of a life spent in emergency, ICU and skilled nursing rooms, she lost her battle with two chronic diseases (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD and Congestive Heart Failure, CHF.) My mother was a courageous and positive-thinking battler. She knew what she had, but refused to give in, refused to give up hope that hospitals were merely a temporary residence, not a future. I admired her attitude and battle greatly and am not so sure I could, or will, do the same given those circumstances.

The inevitable loss itself was big enough. Don’t pile onto it.

When the inevitable day of death arrives, it’s only human nature to pile up on one’s loss, like adding logs to a bonfire, a funeral pyre, with your own statements of loss. “I should have spent more time…” “I forgot to listen more.” “I never told her I loved her often enough.” “I’ve lost my life!”

While that’s an understandable and logical part of the grieving process it can have devastating effects. Piling it on can be dangerous — piling more losses upon the loss, so to speak. It can turn into such a tightly programmed future that it becomes impossible to course correct.

Getting Back in the Win Column

So, how do you begin to stack some even what appear to be minor wins? - among this most major of losses.

If you cared, and you were “there” — however much time that appears to be now — then there were wins before the loss.

You Cared. You Won.

You made your loved one smile. You brought their favorite items from home, to the care facility, to make it more like home. You brought flowers or cookies. You asked questions that sparked memories and story-telling that rewarded you, and your loved one, amidst time that was veering to inevitable loss. You made sure pets and plants were well taken care of, back home. You brought and read him or her their mail. You told others how important that loved one was to you, or what they had done to positively influence, or even change, your life.

I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t play one on TV. I’m a first time caregiver, which seems like veteran caregiver status now, and I guess it is. If it helps others through this process of loss, here’s a few ways I felt the caregivers, and the loved one getting the care, were able to win a bit, in a situation full of loss:

3 Wins to Stack, Before the Loss

Bring home to them. If your loved one is in a short or long-term care facility, bring them pieces of home. Be realistic of course (best loved furniture is best loved back home) but ask your loved one what items from home could make their room more cheery. Even if the stay turns out to be temporary, it will go by faster with photo frames filled with loving faces, favorite pillows, and comfort items from home.

Have them actively participate in their future. This can be difficult and would obviously require a loved one who is cognizant and of sound mind during this time. If this is the case, have discussions about the future — and the topic does not have to be morbid. It can be about what to do differently this month or this year, due to the circumstances. My mother played, and seemed to much enjoy, an active role in assisting us with distributing items she once treasured, but no longer needed, to beloved family members that she selected! It was the best “win” we all had, during this period of time and I recommend this proactive approach above all others.

Become as much of an expert as you can on what they are going through. You don’t need to end up with a medical degree, but learn as much as you can about what diagnosis, condition and cure/rehabilitation is being discussed by medical caregivers with your loved one. Most importantly, be present and be an active participant during those doctor-patient conferences. I couldn’t spell COPD about three years ago, but I can now. The internet and friends, family and church members in the healthcare industry can provide a wealth of information that allows you to produce questions your loved one, particularly if they are elderly, couldn’t think of to ask. If you are “all in” with how much you care, you also need to be all in with how much you know.

You cared. You won.

Live in the Moment, Use the Moments

There are so many learning moments to observe and absorb when we take the final earth-bound journey with a loved one.

No situation is the same, no people are exactly the same, no behavior can be expected to be the same. Yet, both those receiving and giving care can get ‘wins’ even as life heads to the ultimate loss.

You live in the moment, but by also acting in the moment — creating those ‘wins’ you can reward yourself for in a positive way later — can be the difference between looking back on the journey with contentment instead of regret.

I’d be interested in hearing from other caregivers who found winning moments along the journey that leads to the inevitable loss. Sharing what you learned from this, at times, overwhelming responsibility could help others be a little less overwhelmed.

I learned more than a blog’s worth. So maybe it’s onto the e-book.

Rich Borden

Enjoy. Share. Dream.