16. Grief

How is grief disrupted? What intervention in a storyline or real life can either eliminate grief or shove it to the side?

I’ve been talking about my fictional characters, Mike and Karen. Karen is sinking further into Alzheimer’s and Mike’s health is declining in another way because of his self-perceived role as an enabler.

Although Mike senses he is not directly culpable for Karen’s mental regression, he may have enabled Alzheimer’s to enter their relationship. A man who over and over says to himself, If only I had been a better and more caring husband, this would not have happened.

I’m a devotee of C. S. Lewis and his writings. After his wife, Joy, died of cancer, he wrote an insightful book called Grief Observed. Lewis simply listed the commonly understood stages of grief and commented on them: shock/denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

Lewis suggests that shock/denial is closely related to fear. Mike is certainly afraid.

I can relate to that feeling. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being left alone. Fear that my actions precipitated this awful thing in my family.

And guilt. Lots of guilt.

About anger, Lewis says we want to blame someone or something else for this desecration of life. But that piece of the storyline will not work. 

Mike and Karen were not singled out. Alzheimer’s is an epidemic. And Karen became part of it.

Depression is another word for ongoing sadness. A sadness that never lets up because it is based on the “what might have been” or “why can’t we just go back to the heady days of our youth?”

Depression is also an epidemic in our society, for many more reasons than Alzheimer’s.

The fourth stage, bargaining, is probably where intervention has the best chance of making an impact on Mike’s frame of mind. As awful as Alzheimer’s is, and as many mistakes Mike made in the years leading up to it, it has been a learning experience.

Maybe, just maybe, Mike has learned important lessons about himself and his relationships. Medical science indicates that Karen was probably genetically predisposed to being a victim of Alzheimer’s.

The same way some people get diabetes, cancer, and a myriad of other disorders. It just happens. Our job, as those who love the afflicted person, is to stay positive and do all we can to help them through this unwelcomed part of their lives.

Then there is acceptance. Mike can find ways to move on with his life, having learned some difficult and valuable lessons. He can be productive and have positive relationships with others, even while taking care of his wife the best way he can. He can become proactive. He learns about support systems in our society and takes advantage of them. He makes new friends.

————

Bargaining and acceptance is part of the storyline I did not include. But it could have been a plot twist unless Mike and Karen lived on a desert island in the middle of nowhere.

The plot twist to help Mike achieve his a-ha moment in the bargaining and acceptance stages might have been the introduction of a counselor, therapist, or close friend.

Interactions with other care givers. Reading helpful literature. A relative with the ability to have an effective heart to heart conversation. Those are all possible ways to intervene, to disrupt grief.

It might have been another caregiver like him who had already gone through those stages of grief. This caregiver convinces Mike there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe a loving daughter or son spent time with Mike and convinced him that their mother is not a victim of Alzheimer’s because of his behaviors.

All those interventions are possible. Even plausible up to a point.  

But my own story is not like Mike’s. So I, the man who invented the fictitious Mike, does not have a good frame of reference.

Most importantly, my wife was no shrinking violet in the years prior to the onset of her Alzheimer’s. She was her own woman, something I discerned early on. She had substance and conviction.

We deeply respected each other.

And there was the ice cream pact we agreed to, although occasionally we would need to give each other a reminder.

Have I gone through the stages of grief? Yes, but they were mitigated in several ways.

————

One important part of the storyline for both Mike and me is that neither of us are misogynistic. On the surface, Mike might come across as believing men are superior to women. But that is untrue.

Some men are genuinely misogynistic. I find that attitude despicable.

Mike’s problem is a kind of misguided chivalry. He is playing a role akin to being Lois Lane’s Superman. He never wanted to demean Karen.

He loves her. And his relations with other women are rough around the edges, but cordial and respectful.

I created the characters of Mike and Karen, knowing that Mike is basically a good fellow who wants to do the right thing. But an interesting plot twist might lead to a different ending.

Mike likes and respects their female friends. Those friends realize he has a domineering attitude within the home, but they can kid him about it. Jokes. Laughter. Evidences that Mike is more vulnerable than he’d like to admit.

That kind of candor opens the door to a wide range of possibilities. Open discussions about emotions, help with day-to-day events caused by Karen’s decline, conversations about options, speculating about the future and how to plan for it.

Those female friends, with husbands often included, might intervene better than anyone else. They could help Mike better manage his growing despondency and all-consuming guilt and grief.

How about that for a plot twist? The man who was compelled to manage his wife’s life, and felt guilty about it when she contracted Alzheimer’s, was lifted out of his debilitating grief by other women.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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