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Feelings are the true F-word.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lamentable Legacy

Posted by fxckfeelings on April 30, 2012

When someone’s decline/death leaves you with new responsibilities, it can be hard to grieve the way you’d like; either you’re too busy dealing with unsettled family and finance issues, or you’re too distracted by resentments and fears. It’s more important to sort out what you can and can’t do, then do what you can, than to get rid of negative feelings. In the long run, doing all you could, and doing right by the person who died, will be your greatest comfort.
-Dr. Lastname

I’m overwhelmed. I have been married for 25 years, the last ten or so have been strained—three years ago my husband was diagnosed with a progressive, terminal form of dementia. It affects his behavior and communication. We have 3 teens. I stayed home with the kids for 15 years because his job required him to be out of town for extended periods. Now I am working 2 jobs to try to keep up with our expenses. I have been seeing a therapist for 2 years who was helping me deal with the loss—and my reaction to loss, which is odd and inappropriate. Anyway, his office called yesterday to tell me he died. Where do I go from here? I feel so lost.

It sounds like you feel more than lost, and reading your description of events has us a little lost, as well. Still, while the details are hard to follow, the point is crystal clear and amazingly sad.

I may be reading too much into your words, but it does seem like the stress of raising three kids, working two jobs and dealing with the crazy responsibilities of living with dementia have burnt you out and left you spacy and dissociated, with “odd and inappropriate feelings.”

Dementia took your husband away bit by bit while loading you with more and more responsibilities, along with the fear of having to face dangerous and irritating situations without warning. Sadness is a relatively small burden compared to the fear, anger and guilt that people actually encounter.

Temporary detachment may have protected you from being overwhelmed by these feelings; hopefully his death will free you from some of this load and allow you to miss him.

In any case, don’t be critical of your emotions. Respect the awesome strength it requires to manage the calamities that have happened to you and the duties you’ve been saddled with along the way. After all, your goal was never to feel good about what was happening; it was to sustain your family according to he standards you and your husband believed in.

Begin by talking to your therapist and/or friends—people who know you well, not just over the internet—and use them as coaches to figure out what you need to do. Sometimes, the best therapy comes from visiting a lawyer; figuring out what you need to do next helps fight your worst fears and gives strength to the kids. It won’t be easy, but you’ve been operating in survival mode for several years, you just need to keep it up a little longer.

With a bit of luck, your life will settle down. After all, you’ve imagined the worst case scenario and it’s happened. Once you know you’ve done what’s necessary to bury him, help the kids, and manage your finances, you’ll be in better shape to sort out your feelings and your future.

Regardless of how “odd and inappropriate” your feelings appear now, you did what needed to be done and that’s what counts. Keep it up, take comfort in your achievement, and let your feelings take care of themselves.

STATEMENT:
“I’m barely treading water and can’t make sense of my feelings, but I’ve survived a medical/marital catastrophe, supported my kids, and cared for my husband as he stopped being himself, so whatever is important, I’ve done it. Now I will continue to take care of business, including allowing my feelings to catch up with what I’ve been through.”

My mother was good at handling everyone and she had a million friends. I always thought my father was on the same page, but, since her death, he does a million things that irritate me, which I hate, because I want to be supportive and need his support. He makes impulsive decisions about money and seems too needy with his new girlfriend. It’s not that I want him to be loyal to my mother’s memory; I don’t want to have to protect him and her estate from someone’s opportunism. I’ve tried to give him advice but he tells me not to run his life (not exactly in those words). My goal is to get through to him without antagonizing him. What I’d like even better is to be able to have confidence in him and close to him at a time that’s hard for both of us.

It’s doubly hard to grieve your mother’s death if, at the same time, you feel like you’re failing to carry out her mandate and your efforts are tearing the family apart. Just ask Hamlet; the harder you try, the worse it gets.

One of the bad things about grieving a parent who happens to have been a strong, dependable leader is that things may fall apart without her leadership, leaving you to try to pick up the slack and restoring your family’s sense of security. After all, your mother was such a good leader you didn’t have to worry. Now, you’d like to keep things that way, both for yourself and in her memory.

It’s good that you’re available, supportive, and eager to help. Your goal is dangerous, however, if you make yourself responsible for decisions you don’t control; you’ll wind up angry, helpless, and in conflict with those you love. After all, you don’t have your mother’s influence over your father or anyone else, and you have your own life to lead.

So don’t take responsibility for protecting your father or the family fortune; your goal is simply to do your best and see how much you can do. Evidently, it’s not much, but that’s an additional loss you need to accept and grieve. Once you accept your father’s limitations, you’re ready to make the best of things.

Instead of pressing him to see his new girlfriend’s faults and creating a conflict of loyalty, provide him with positive, professional advice. Express pleasure in his happiness and confidence in the future of his new relationship before suggesting specific methods by which he can balance his desire to provide for his new girlfriend, assuming things go well, while also supporting his children and possible grandchildren. Specific methods include consulting a lawyer and creating trusts. Again, seeing a lawyer is one of the best forms of therapy around (alas, they’re not covered by your health insurance).

No, you may never have the confidence in your father that you used to have, or the easy ability to relax and feel close. You may often feel that the family was closer and safer when your mother was alive. You’ll know you’re doing your best, however, if you can prevent your fears and sadness from causing conflict while also doing what you can to protect the values she stood for.

STATEMENT:
“Since my mother died, I can’t stop feeling sad and helpless about things falling into chaos for my family. I know, however, that she left me with a strong personal legacy and that I can’t control the changes that must happen to my family now that she’s gone. I will help them, if I can, while going ahead with my own life.”

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