The Calm AFTER the Storm

by Paige C on June 30th, 2013

Calm after the Storm
When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, a great deal of time and energy is devoted to educating and supporting individuals and families throughout the course of the illness, from the time of diagnosis to the final stages of the battle.  And yet, there is so little literature about weathering the calm that comes after the proverbial storm.   Only those who have actually experienced this calm truly understand that it can be more draining the storm they have just weathered.
My mother, for example, spent almost her entire adult life caring for my grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her sixties.  Over the course of two decades, my mother’s role as a caregiver intensified as my grandmother declined.  Slowly, she saw less and less of her friends.  She had less and less time for herself.  She became less and less involved in the outside world and less motivated to go out into it when she had the opportunity.
There came a point in time when my mother’s entire day revolved around the constant care of my grandmother.  She did not leave the house for whole weeks at a time.  Her focus became entirely devoted to feedings, bathing, laundry, and medication.  She even admitted that during this period of her life, she did not know herself outside of being a full-time nurse to my grandmother.  On her most frustrated of days, she would hint at the relief she hoped to find when my grandmother passed.  She would say such things as, when this is all behind us… or, when her suffering is over…or, someday I will… 
For the rest of us, my father, grandfather, and me, there was a sad but tremendous weight lifted when my grandmother finally did pass.  As less involved participants in her care, we were able to easily return to the things we hadn’t been able to do as frequently during her illness.  My father once again took my mom out for sails on our boat and spent weekends going to dinner and movies.  My grandfather returned to playing golf nearly every day, and I was relinquished from the responsibility of weekend “nana sitting” so my mother could sleep or grocery shop.  Life easily returned to a normal pace inside our home, for everyone except my mother.
She fell into a deep depression marked by the absence of her grueling role as caregiver.  She was unbelievably sad, she rarely ate, she couldn’t sleep, and she wasn’t motivated to do anything, especially if it involved leaving the house.  When she finally opened up and began talking about her personal struggle, she admitted to feeling empty and lost.  She admitted to also feeling completely taken aback by her own reaction.  Like the rest of us, she, too, believed that she would welcome my grandmother’s passing.  She said that she knew she’d be sad, but she expected to be excited about moving forward with her life.  It was clear to everyone that she wasn’t.
Finally, she decided to see a therapist.  My mother was told that she was suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome that was not uncommon to those who had recently lost a loved one to a debilitating disease such as cancer or, in her case, Alzheimer’s.  The therapist explained that because she had, in a sense, given up her individual identity to play caregiver to my grandmother, my mother was struggling with regaining her own identity in the wake of the death.  While the rest of us quickly regained our normal routines, my mother was coming to terms with the loss of her parent and the loss of her own identity.  The therapist referred to this period as the calm after the storm.
Since seeking medical help, my mother has made a full recovery.  She has since returned to her normal routine and reconnected with friends.  She has slowly metamorphosed into a new person with a new role in our family and she has found her new purpose as an individual.  But, she still talks about that dark time in her life.  She still shudders at the memory of the unexpected and unexplainable pain she felt in the calm after the storm.  Mostly, she is grateful to have a label to put on her pain.  She is grateful to have been educated on the internal battle she was waging against herself.  And she is grateful to have been given the tools and strategies to beat it.  Post-traumatic stress syndrome is more common than most of us know.  If is important to recognize the triggers and symptoms of such a condition and get help for anyone who may be suffering from it.
Paige C is a teacher and author in Prince William County, VA

Posted in Stories    Tagged with Alzheimer's, Caregiving, grandmother, mother, post traumatic stress, loss of identity, PTSD


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