AVE SIMMONS: How do you get your life back if you have given up everything to care for the dying loved one
A few months ago my mother Michele had a minor operation. It was nothing serious – just the correction of muscle weakness in her left eye. But it entailed a severe anesthetic and affected her eyesight. Barely 60, she is a sharp, confident woman. A little anesthetic was no problem, she assured me. But when I met her after the procedure in the hospital, she was unusually weak. “You have to take your daughter’s arm to walk to the toilet,” the nurse said.
Mama reluctantly followed the instructions.
When I later bundled her from the taxi to her house, a painful thought occurred. Soon I would have to leave her – and she would be all alone.
I have written on these pages about the death of my father Jeff when I was 12 years old. It left my mother as a widow at the age of 48. Six years before, she had been taken into account in a life she had never planned, because my father was fighting a rare and debilitating form of cancer.
Eve Simmons at her mother’s house, Michelle. It is clear that despite the appearance she never found the answer to the most important question after the death of a partner: what is next?
Forced to leave her managerial position in the publicity to look after him, the colleagues she had left had made important contacts, climbed the career ladder and offered 30 percent pay increases in the coming years. My mother, on the other hand, took Dad to radiotherapy and chemo sessions, made creamy puddings to keep his energy levels high and tried to do freelance work.
Much of her ingenuity went to protecting my brother Sam and me from the horrific reality of Dad’s illness, and keeping our youth ‘normal’ for as long as possible.
Since daddy died, she has been trying to fill the caregiver with different functions, visiting friends abroad and volunteering. Most of the time I have to trust that she is doing well, especially because as a 28-year-old woman I have to do that with my own partner and career. But sometimes the somber memories of the reality of our family tragedy – and its endless consequences – are inevitable. Seeing Mama forced to sell our family five years ago, because it was too big and too expensive to walk alone, there was one.
More recently I saw how, still barely conscious after her eyes, she had stored a lot of pills, bottles of water and snacks on her comforter before she drove me away. “There is no one here to bring anything forward,” she said frankly.
It is clear that despite the appearance she never found the answer to the most important question after the death of a partner: what is next?
In an effort to help her – and the two million other Britons in a similar position each year – this newspaper called on readers for advice.
In November our doctor Dr. Ellie Cannon asked the readers to contact them about how to deal with the loss of a terminally ill life partner. Hundreds of you did that, and here we have collected some of your best suggestions and advice.
There are also some own tips and from qualified experts. We hope that sharing it will make the next, astonishing chapter just a little less scary.
Iit is never too early to live again
When I asked Mama if there was anything she wanted that she had done differently, she replied: “I should have plunged myself into work and met new people rather than later. But at that time I had two children who needed me and they mattered more. “
Of course, it wasn’t long after Dad died that Sam and I were in college and left Mom alone.
Spending time alone, she says, gives your confidence a knock. “Then you get used to your own business and you get a little scared of entering a room with people you don’t know, or trying out new things,” she says.
Planning a life together: Eve’s parents, Jeff and Michele, at their engagement party in 1981
But studies show that diving first into what you’re most afraid of is the most effective way to overcome social anxiety.
So go to local clubs – found on bulletin boards in churches or local stores – with a good friend to help you.
And there is no such thing as “too fast,” the experts say. Dr. Paula Smith, a health psychologist with an interest in caregivers, says: “The latest research into sadness shows that it is quickly positive to immerse yourself in normal life. It gives people a break to be immersed in grief.
“You can’t always talk about it, it gets overwhelming. Even going back to work can bring you back into your life. “
For women of working age, organizations such as the Carer’s Trust, local hospices and Citizens Advice can provide advice on how to get back up the career ladder step by step.
You do not have to find a new partner
People often ask me: “Why wasn’t your mother remarried?” Finding another partner seems like an obvious next step, and I often hoped Mama would do that for my own peace of mind. But despite numerous constellations and a few short relationships, it never happened.
Address that ‘death admin’ early
One of the most common problems in the immediate aftermath of losing a loved one is searching the endless belts of so-called “death admin”.
The easiest way to tackle it? Do it in advance.
Emma Aldridge, from Carers UK, says: “It is not always possible, but if you can, prepare wills, powers of attorney and financial agreements from third parties for the inevitable. It then leaves room for you to just focus on mourning when the worst happens. “
Your local branch of the Age UK charity can help, as well as online advisory services such as moneysavingexpert.com, goodgrieftrust.org and the NHS website.
For legal assistance, contact the Law Society. Citizens Advice can also offer a case employee to work with you and tell you about the benefits you may be entitled to, such as a widow’s pension.
I will always remember the large folder with the lifting arch, full of papers, on the shelf in my mother’s office.
The label on the back said: “What Michele Did Next.”
Practically as always, my father had detailed specific instructions for logistics, which meant that she didn’t have to turn to the good old Google.
Some people are less lucky.
“I have already met the person I wanted to spend my life with and he is no longer here,” she says.
“In the end, nobody else compared him.”
Mama’s words are reflected in letters from different readers.
One, a man in his forties who lost his wife to brain cancer five years ago, wrote about the pain he felt without his ‘dream girl’.
Others said they could not even fathom the idea of another person in life that they shared with their loved one.
And experts agree that a new partner is not always the answer. “There is often a feeling that there are three people in the relationship,” says Dr. John Troyer, director of the Center for Death and Society at the University of Bath.
‘Just because a person is dead does not mean that you still have no relationship with him. It can be difficult to know how much an appropriate amount is to talk about them and new partners feel threatened. For some people it feels good to meet someone else, not for others. Both positions are equally valid and normal. “
Routine is your friend in times of sorrow
The most popular tip from readers was to record a new activity. Gardening, dog walking and dance lessons were popular choices. But what you do doesn’t matter, as long as it provides structure.
“People will be used to a routine that revolves around that loved one,” says Dr. Smith. “So when the person dies and suddenly there is no routine, it feels like another loss.
“A rough schedule to fall back on can be reassuring.”
This can be anything from taking the children or grandchildren to school, to going to a weekly Zumba class.
My mother was busy organizing my 13th birthday party within a week after Dad’s death.
She said: “I threw myself at everyone because I had no choice at first, but I didn’t have to think about how terrible everything was. I just had to continue. That has always been my philosophy. “
K.find friendships before it’s too late
If you take care of a sick loved one, it is not a priority to answer the phone to ask about a friend’s recent vacation. But maintaining links with a wider social network – no matter how vague – will be invaluable in a few years.
Says Andy Langford of Cruse Bereavement Care: “Regular contact with friends, family or colleagues – even if it’s just one phone call every month – acts as a springboard to the outside world.
Maintaining links with a wider social network – however vague – will be invaluable a few years later (file photo)
“This appears to be particularly important months after the mourning when the immediate influx of support has dried up.”
My parents’ oldest friends were constantly rocks during my father’s illness – and beyond – and it is a relief to know that they are at the end of the phone should Mommy need them.
Healthcare organizations also offer the possibility of new friendships with people in similar situations. Local locations of Carer’s UK, The Carer’s Trust and Age UK offer online forums, events and days off.
You can keep worrying … as a career
Reader Sara Challice from Twickenham, South West London, found comfort in continuing her caring role professionally.
Sara, 48, took care of her husband Neal for 13 years before he died of brain cancer in 2015.
Sara, a former graphic designer, now devotes a large part of her life to it. “After Neal’s death, I could no longer bear the thought of a pointless job or everyday office conversation.
“So I packed up my job in the city and now I work at home and I have a support website for caregivers. In April I will publish a book about healthcare. “
Emma Aldridge, a social worker from the charity Carers UK, says the story of Sara is common. “Some people feel very connected with their caring role and want to continue it,” she says.
‘And you cannot underestimate the skills you have acquired while caring for someone, such as negotiating with authorities and juggling lots of signs. They look impressive on a resume. “
What is the difference … between COPD and emphysema?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a collective name for a group of lung disorders that cause breathing difficulties. COPD occurs when the lungs become inflamed, damaged and constricted, often as a result of smoking. An estimated two million Britons have the condition.
Emphysema is a type of COPD. The lungs consist of millions of small air pockets called alveoli. In people with emphysema, these air pockets are weakened, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream and causing shortness of breath, coughing and fatigue.
Iit’s ok to save things that contain memories
I have often been worried that mommy’s reluctance to get rid of daddy-related things – every birthday and anniversary card, or notes that he had written in the hospice – might leave her “stuck” in the past.
A tatty sweater that he often wore on his chemotherapy appointments remains in the closet of the room. But sticking to objects is not unhealthy. Dr. Troyer says: “You can go ahead and still create a space where you can make contact with that person – be it by looking at their clothing or going to their favorite restaurant.
“Some celebrate the birthday of a deceased person every year. The point is that people find it strange if they don’t get rid of everything or get over it. “
Dr. Troyer recommends carving out a certain time of the day or week to enjoy those memories.
Pets can offer companionship and comfort
No matter how crazy it sounds, our family cat, Ernie, was a huge source of comfort to mum in the years following Dad’s death.
Especially because, unlike us, he did not scream or moan at her.
She said: “Only the presence of someone or something else in the house was welcome. It illuminates the silence, which can be disturbing if you are not used to it. “
Many readers wrote that coming home to a happy dog, unlike an empty house, eased their sense of loneliness (file photo)
Many readers wrote that coming home to a happy dog, unlike an empty house, eased their sense of loneliness. At times when they felt most miserable – during long, lonely nights – an animal at the foot of the bed gave them something to smile about.
Do something that is ‘just not you’
Some readers have taken on a completely different identity, doing things that they might not have considered when they were with their partners.
One discovered a hidden painting talent, while the other overcame her fear of cruises. Another threw herself into her local university of the third century – which offers a large number of activities for people over 60 – and made friends for life.
Dr. Smith says, “Being free from the caring role gives you the opportunity to be someone who is totally different.”
For Sara Challice, her husband’s death was an opportunity to finally make the journey of the life she had always dreamed of. “I was a caged bird that spent so many years in the house,” she says. ‘I wanted to travel, but I was always too scared to go alone. Suddenly I thought: damn it, I’m going to do it! ”
Whatever you do, you don’t feel guilty
I asked Sara if she ever felt guilty about starting her future without her deceased husband, Neal. “No, never,” she said. “He doesn’t want me to be on antidepressants for the rest of my life. He would like me to find joy and happiness. ”
For some it is easier than for others.
My mother often feels guilty, not because they continue, but because they have not given my brother and me the perfect, happy upbringing she had always imagined. But I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve been fine.
And whether mum goes on a trip to exotic countries, meets handsome strangers or sits on her couch watching TV, it doesn’t really matter.
Whatever her happiness brings is enough for me. At this point I think the universe owes her something.
What to read, view and do
Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story Of Love And Loss
Palliative care specialist Rachel Clarke investigates how to approach the end of life – and shares her own emotional journey with her dying father.
£ 16.99 Little, Brown Book Group
Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency (Episode 3)
An illuminating documentary series from NHS first-line staff, below, at Nottinghamshire Healthcare – one of the UK’s largest mental health trusts – while dealing with people in crisis.
Tuesday, 10 p.m., channel 4
The Man Talk
Suicide is the biggest killer of young men. The London-based Rich Mix art center brings together six male speakers, including athlete Theo Campbell, to talk openly about the struggles of life.
Thursday, 8 p.m., Rich Mix, East London. £ 12, richmix.org.uk
From left to right: Richard Marsh, Dr. Christina Kelly and Dr. Amy Au-Yong, in the Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency documentary series