Hope for living, loving and caring with no regrets!
Season 1, Episode 1
- what was most surprising to her about grief in the process of caring for her parents.
- the intensity of the grief
- the grief process was not a clean as the stages implied
- comparing the grief while caring and after they have passed away
- what others need to keep in mind about grief during their caring season
- the role grief plays in caregiver burnout
- finally, recommended resources to deal with grief
*Transcript is an actual recount of the live conversation
Grief in the Caring Season
Rayna Neises: Welcome to A Season of Caring Podcast, where there’s hope for living, loving, and caring with no regrets. This is Rayna, Neises, your host, and today I’m excited to introduce you to our guest, Nancy Miller.
Nancy is an ACC Certified Life Coach, with the International Coach Federation, and several other organizations. She’s also a certified Grief Recovery Specialist. Her desire to help others continue moving forward. Despite unplanned life events was born out of her own experiences and led her to establish, Navigate Life Coaching LLC.
As a registered nurse, she’s served people in hospitals, homes, and high school settings. She was a certified school nurse for most of her nursing career. She currently enjoys serving others through life coaching, grief coaching, and grief recovery.
Welcome, Nancy. I’m so glad to have you here today.
Nancy Miller: Hi, Rayna. It’s an honor to be with you.
Rayna Neises: Thank you. Nancy let’s start off just by having you share a little bit of about your caregiving season with your parents.
Nancy Miller: It was a number of years ago, but it was like, I remember like it was yesterday. And, my mom was the first parent that became ill and she had received a cancer diagnosis. And as a nurse with the type of cancer she had, I knew that the prognosis was not good. So, for about a year, she battled pancreatic cancer.
And during that year, I drove back and forth across the Pennsylvania turnpike one weekend a month, sometimes more than one weekend a month, but just about every month I was going there. That five-hour drive, I was working a full-time job, besides. I would go there so that I could go with her to her doctor’s appointments or to just check on her and help with her caregiving. So that was my first personal experience of caregiving. And then my father had Alzheimer’s and he lived with that for almost three years, and that was another season of caregiving.
It was a little different, but, similar in some ways. I did a lot of driving, again back and forth to care for him to help to make sure all of his needs were met.
My mom and dad had foresight to plan a lot of things for when they got older and when they were unable to care for themselves. And one of those things they did was they had set up that I would be the healthcare power of attorney because of my nursing background. There was a lot involved with being sure that I was honoring their wishes as a caregiver. And there was also a lot of. Communication and coordination with doctor’s offices and hospitals and facilities.
My dad died in 2011 and my mom in 2008, but while my mom was ill, so I spent that year, you know, going back and forth and caregiving for her in that role of the healthcare power of attorney and just supporting her to go with her to her appointments because she wanted me to be there since I was a nurse.
But the last two weeks of her life, I was there while she was confined to bed and she was unable to care for herself. And that was a really difficult two weeks because I knew that she was dying and I knew that there was nothing that we could do about that. And we wanted to do everything to make her comfortable and to assist her.
But it’s hard when you’re a daughter because there are these different roles that I was in. I was in the role of daughter. I was in the role of nurse. I was in the role of caregiver, and I’m a mother also. So I was dealing with, managing the role of mom to an adult son. So there were just a lot of things that made it difficult.
But I’m grateful that I was able to be there with her those two weeks. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. You know, wouldn’t trade those trips across Pennsylvania to care for her or my dad because they were, you know, we created memories even though some of it was not pleasant experiences, but we created some amazing memories in that season.
You know, I remember my mom one time, we went to Panera after one for appointments and they had fresh baked bread, and she was like so happy to have fresh baked bread and just those little things that we take for granted and now just to see it through her eyes. It was just a really powerful memory to have.
Those are my personal experiences and I’ve had a few, , I’ve had experiences observing people, caregiving as a professional nurse. When I did home care, I have patients that were on hospice and, and patients who had chronic illnesses, long term chronic illnesses and family members that cared for them for years sometimes while they were confined to a bed and, and I’ve seen, the. The strength, the fortitude, the endurance, the, um, commitment, the love that people have in that caregiving role. From my professional perspective.
Rayna Neises: It can definitely be the best of times and the worst of times, like you said, there’s opportunities to make special memories and to just cherish and be in the moment more than we are in our everyday lives. When we’re in that season, we can take advantage of that. But then also knowing that we’re walking them home and there’s going to be an end can be really difficult.
Nancy Miller: You’re right.
Rayna Neises: [00:06:00] What was most surprising to you about grief in the process of caring for your parents?
Nancy Miller: I think one of the most surprising aspects of grief for me was the intensity of emotion that I felt. My mom and dad both had a large family. Each of them had a number of siblings, so I had experienced the death of aunts and uncles, grandparents, but I was totally unprepared for the intensity of grief that came with losing a parent, and I remember the summer before my mom died when I was aware that her condition had changed and she was going to be going on hospice. I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was in my kitchen talking to myself in my head. I remember saying, Nancy, everyone loses their parents. People lose their parents all the time. You’ll get through this, and there’s truth to that that almost everyone does, you know, lose their parents to death, and they do get through it.
But the truth was that when it’s your parent, I don’t think there is any way to really prepare for it, that you can fully comprehend what it will be like. And at my doctor’s office, the nurse there said some to me after my mom died. She said to me a comment that stuck with me. She said, your parents are the people you’ve known the longest in your life. They’ve known you your whole entire life.
And they’ve loved you your entire life. And, and I did. I had loving parents. It was a great family life growing up. And so yes, there’s a huge void when you love someone. And so that was the biggest surprise, the intensity.
But the other surprise was that I thought perhaps because of some of my life experiences and perhaps because of some of the things I learned about grief in my nursing education, I thought perhaps I might be better prepared, but I wasn’t really in what I know now is that some of the things that we were taught, and most of us are taught about grief, about the stages of grief. That Dr Kubler Ross really never intended those stages of grief to apply to the death of someone.
Those stages of grief really were more for a person who has been given a terminal illness and that person. That has the diagnosis, is how she applied those stages of grief for that person, not the person who is surviving the death of a loved one.
So the intensity was caught me off guard and the lack of resources and a lack of tools to really know how to process all that I experienced. And I think some of my grief was a little more complicated by the fact that my mom died in October or the end of October. And then, um, two months after she died, it was Christmas and my dad didn’t know who I was . That was that realization that, Oh my gosh, we’re, I’m losing my dad too, and I’m in between there.
There was another death that was a significant loss. So there were these three losses in a two month period of time, and it was an intense period of, of grieving and mourning for me. The intensity and the lack of skills and knowledge to how to get through it. Were there things that really caught me off guard.
Rayna Neises: [00:10:07] So the grief that you experienced as your parents were aging and as you knew you were losing them was different than the grief of actually having them gone. Tell us a little bit about the differences.
Nancy Miller: Yes I think with my mom, I knew that year, , okay, we’re probably going to lose her because I knew her diagnosis , did not have a good prognosis. And so that was difficult. And then a cancer death is, is never, um, I’m not aware of any cancer death. That’s, uh. You know, they’re always difficult just to watch the person’s body change and, and things change.
So there was some grief and mourning there with, with my mom in that year. Uh, and, um, and having been her caregiver and watching her die, that was really difficult. I was there by myself while she was dying. And so, so that was really hard too.To just be the nurse, the caregiver, the daughter role, and do that solely on my own.
But with my dad’s death, I think it was different because it was over almost three year period of time. And I would visit him almost once a month. And could see these changes beginning to occur. And I was mourning each time I saw this other part of dad slip away.
And you know, he was very physically active, and he loved doing things outdoors. And so we would go for walks. When I would visit him, we would take long walks, and then when it got to the point where he was no longer able to do that, how to take those long walks, he could take shorter walks. That was a place of mourning, and I remember a really it was a significant moment. I had, my mom always made all these pastries and things, you know, for Christmas. And, this one particular year, my sister and I and my cousin got together, and we baked these pastries and it was a lot of work. I had one in the freezer when I was going to visit dad. I took it to him, and I gave him, um. this pastry to eat. And he, he didn’t even know it. He didn’t recognize that. He didn’t acknowledge or like it. And that was a place where I had to just mourn and when I left, I had to cry, sat in my car, cried, and I thought, oh my gosh, he, he doesn’t even remember this. I was mourning and grieving the loss of, of my dad all throughout those three years.
When he passed away, it was difficult. It was, you know, it was really difficult. And I, I was sad, but it was different for me, um, then when my mom died. Now part of those reasons, if from my perspective were that, their, their diagnosis and the way they died was different for each of them.
But also. The role we have and the relationship we have with each family member affects how we mourn and grieve too. So I think that was another factor that, played into it for me. And I think it plays into it for others.
Rayna Neises: [00:13:43] Definitely. What would you tell someone who finds himself in this season of caring? What, things do they need to keep in mind about grief as they’re caring for their parents?
Nancy Miller: I think that it’s important to remember that this is a season, and I love your name, A Season of Caring because it really is just a season. And I think it’s important to remember as you’re caregiving, that you’re still a person. You know you’re a person first. I remember one of my nursing instructors told us that you’re a person before you’re a nurse.
So remember that you’re a person first that has real needs and emotions, and so honor your emotions. You may be feeling sad that your parent is suffering. You may be feeling guilt that you couldn’t do something that you would like to do for them. You may be feeling frustrated and, and you know, so I think you need to honor your emotions as you’re grieving.
And to be honest, and how the honest conversation with the person you’re caring for, you know, they’re, they’re grieving too. I think they’re grieving too because especially if their mental faculties are not as effected. They, they are aware that they can’t do the things they wanted to do, whether it’s when they can’t stop, can no longer drive, or when they no can no longer walk or whatever, things change, however their body changes, they’re grieving those things.
And so being honest and. Having a loving, honest conversations, I think to grieve when you’re grieving. Also, just give yourself a minute to just to just grieve. I think so many times, some of us are afraid to release our tears and some people have said, I’m afraid I’ll never stop crying. And really our tears are a natural expression that when we don’t have the words to say, if we can release those tears, and so if you need to step away and go in another room and have a minute or two, to cry, express your tears, writing your journal, say a prayer, you know, do whatever is going to encourage you. Those are some things that will help you as you’re grieving. And I think another thing that really is important to realize that you’re in that caregiving role, but you’re, you’re a person. All those other dimensions on domains of your life, keep those alive because keep those relationships that you have alive, your relationship with your spouse or with your friends or with your children. Because once your loved one that you’re caring for passes, you have a life.
If you’ve kept those relationships alive, you have those people as a support network. But if you have cut off all of your friends for years because you were caregiving, you may be struggling because now you don’t have that support network that you need. And take care of yourself, like acknowledging that you have physical needs, that you have emotional needs, relational needs, spiritual needs, all of those things. Just acknowledge that.
When my dad was had Alzheimer’s and he was at home, my brother lived with him to care for him and I remember saying to my brother, this is not going to be easy. You know, so when you feel like you need help, let us know. We figured out a way to have someone come in and help my dad, uh, four hours, a couple times a week.
That gave my brother time and he would sometimes he setting would just go to the mall to just be by himself, drink, um, by a lemonade or something and just sit there. So he had some time, but I was more difficult. I could, looking back, I think it was more difficult for him when my dad died because he had been really the primary caregiver.
It was more difficult for him than for me or my sister because we live in different places. But those are some things, the journaling, honesty about your emotions, expressing your emotions, just giving yourself a minute to just be, and keeping those connections with your friends and family
Learning and acknowledging that mourning and grief or normal, I think are really important because sometimes we tell ourselves that, um, we shouldn’t be thinking or feeling a certain thing, but it’s normal to grieve. It’s the price we pay for loving someone.
Rayna Neises: [00:18:39] Very true, and I think those are really valuable tips to keep in mind that, you know, you have to take care of yourself in order to make it through the full journey with your parents and, finding those things that you need to do that by really expressing that feeling of grief and allowing yourself permission.
I think sometimes we just don’t even give ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling. Figuring out how to take care of, you know, get the help that you need so you can have the support. And then also making sure that you have those relationships to support you once they’re gone as well. Those are great points, Nancy, and it sounds like a lot of those would also help with burnout.
Nancy Miller: Yes, yes, they will. You’re right. And, and that, you know, caregiver burnout is, can be a real thing. It is a real thing. People in caregiving roles, whether professionals or you know, caregiving for family members can really, just push and push and push and you know, it’s a problem to be, to burn out and you care so much.
But then when you don’t have anything left to give, you may end up showing up in a way that is not your best self. When you’re trying to care for your loved one and you may not have the patience or you may not have the energy or the emotional fortitude and balance that you want to have if you have, if you’re running on empty.
Doing those things that will help to fill you up and keep you able to show up. Ready to pour into your, your loved one. And I think that’s one of the challenges that people who are in caregiving roles have is they have the responsibility to care for the loved one, and they have other roles sometimes that they are also taking on and trying to figure out how do I.
Juggle all this and a problem sometimes, but there’s a lot of resources. There’s support groups, there’s things that, there’s caregiver support groups. I wish when I was going through my season that I had some of the resources that you’re providing for people, because sometimes you don’t. There was no roadmap for grief and there was no roadmap for caregiving and having someone to walk with you through those places is really valuable.
Rayna Neises: [00:21:10] I definitely agree. I think seeking the support, I’m not sure why we all seem to hesitate with doing that, but it definitely can make a difference. Burnout is not where you want to be. So, being intentional and preventing it can definitely make a big difference. And that, I think even grieving by acknowledging, giving yourself permission to grieve helps stop the burnout as well.
I think we oftentimes keep pushing past our emotions. That’s what leads to more of the burnout.
What resources do you find, have you found helpful with grieving?
Nancy Miller: I’ve found a number of things helpful. Um, one of the experts on grief and loss that I have found to be an invaluable resource is Dr. Alan Wolfelt W. O. L. F. E. L. T. He has a center for loss in Colorado. He’s written numerous books about grief and loss. Some of them are can be broken up like that. You read one reading daily. A 365 days. Those are beneficial. He has other books that you can read a little page at a time and do a little bit of journaling. That’s really helpful because when you’re grieving. You don’t have a lot of energy, and so those little one page readings or one page activity to think and journal can be very beneficial.
Another resource that I found very valuable is Grief Share Ministry, and that is a support group. That has three components. It has the component of videos where you hear from experts, grief counselors, clergy. And then you hear from people who are grieving or, or have been grieving, and you hear their experience.
And then there’s the, workbook and the discussion part. So there’s three components, the DVDs, the workbook, and the discussion. That’s very valuable. That’s for the death of someone.
And the other resource that I’ve found to be very beneficial is the Grief Recovery Method. It was very beneficial in my life. I took the training a couple of years ago because I found it so valuable and it helps a person to process any loss, to come to a place of emotional completion and regarding any loss, not just the loss, related to the death of a loved one.
There are lots of other resources out there. I know we have a local center for loss that provides great resources and support groups.
In each area there might be other resources for grief and loss. I would say don’t grieve alone because that’s not a healthy way to grieve and time. We all got the message that time heals and it doesn’t. The passage of time will happen, but if we haven’t done anything to mourn our losses, we will still be grieving and mourning for a long, long time.
And I believe, and I have found ways to come to a place of completion regarding the loss, to mourn the losses and to honor my parents and their memories and have those good memories, but there is no longer a significant amount of pain associated with remembering them because I’ve given myself that permission and I’ve used the tools that were available to learn how to mourn, and that’s my biggest encouragement to people is to just really do what you need to do so that you can mourn. Because. As we said, when you’re caregiving and the person dies, you have a life to go back to and once they die, if you do that morning, you can fully enter back into your life.
It’s not going to look the same. It definitely won’t be the same. It’s going to be different because your loved one isn’t there, but you have a life. To live, to go back to or to recreate and rebuild a life. And then as a new, in a new way, you know, if someone has lost their spouse, they have a new identity and they have to rebuild and kind of figure out who am I now and how do I go forward?
Or if you lost your parents, as we’ve talked about losing our parents, then how do I live now with my parents not here? How do I honor their memory and honor them? But. It’s important. I just encourage people to find the resources and utilize them because the death of your loved one doesn’t have to be the end of the story of your happy life.
You can recover, you can grow forward, and you can find new ways to, to be fulfilled and to find joy.
Rayna Neises: [00:26:24] Thank you so much, Nancy. There’s so much wisdom in that grief is something we cannot avoid, even if we don’t talk about it, or even if we pretend like it’s not there. So it seems like oftentimes that’s our solution is let’s just pretend like it’s not happening. And especially in this season of caring when there is so much to do, and so little time. It feels like taking the time to greive feels like a luxury, but it’s really not. And thank you so much for sharing those resources and your experience and wisdom and understanding how difficult this season can be and realizing how important not grieving alone through the season is.
And I just really appreciate your time today and I know our listeners do as well. Those of you who are listening out there, can find out more about firstname.lastname@example.org and also follow her on Facebook. She has lots of great, encouraging things to share at Navigate Life Coaching on Facebook.
Thank you again, Nancy for your time and thank you podcast listeners for joining us today and continue living, loving and caring with no regrets.
Nancy Miller: Thank you, Rayna. Thanks so much.
Rayna Neises: A Season of Caring Podcast is intended to encourage family caregivers. If you have medical, legal, or financial questions, be sure to consult your local professional.
*Transcript is an actual recount of the live conversation
Caregiver Survivor & Certified Grief Recovery Specialist
As a registered nurse, she served people in hospitals, homes and high school settings. She was a certified school nurse for most of her nursing career. She currently enjoys serving others through life coaching, grief coaching and grief recovery.
It’s Nancy’s goal to serve others in helping professions so they can live their best possible lives, discover well-being, and fulfill the greatest commandment, especially the charge to “love yourself”. She’s a frequent speaker on the topic of self-care and well-being.
In her spare time, you’ll find Nancy biking, hiking, reading or searching for healthfully delicious recipes as part of her own self-care practices. Traveling to the beach, the mountains and the nations brings her great joy and adventure.