Do any of you know what compounded grief really is? Compounded grief can be described as a series of losses that occur over a relatively brief period of time. Compounded grief can also be referred to as cumulative grief. Compounded grief is difficult because before the person has an opportunity to find healing, another—oftentimes unexpected—loss arises that makes it increasingly difficult to cope.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately for a reason. But while diving in and learning about it, I learned that I had compounded grief when my son died, then a year later when my first husband was diagnosed with cancer, then battling and losing his life 16 months later, then my brother dying just 2 months after my husband. I've stated many times that I didn't know who I was grieving for and it took me time and a lot of journaling and reflecting to separate each loss and work through those losses individually. But, I grieved and I did my work and I continue to do my work. That is what I am building here, trying to show people that we can grieve and we can be better.
Today, I'm really struggling with helping my mother in law (from my 1st marriage). You see, she is a 76 y/o lady who has pretty much lost her entire family. She lost people along the way in life, but her most traumatic and significant losses have really taken a toll on her mind & soul. First losing her grandson, my Garret, then her son Jack, then her mother, (in between those losses sister n laws and great nephews), then her husband getting diagnosed with an incurable disease and living with that for 10 years. During this time, losing her daughter and not having her husband fully present for the loss of her and having no one to lean on, to this year when her husband of 53 years died. So her immediate little family, her husband and two children have died. Everything she dreamed of and built her life around has died. She has family (a few cousins, nieces, and nephews, brother n law), but her only living life line is her granddaughter, my daughter Graci. She also has me, but sometimes I say it's an odd place to be in because I'm her daughter n law from her son who has died and I am now remarried and building a new life. BUT, do not get me wrong. They were a huge part of my life, my journey, my healing and I will always be her daughter n law and her main source of guidance and help. That's just what we do, right?
I can see the the trauma and unresolved grief that she lives with each day and believe me people it's a real thing. People have asked me if she is okay? Does she have dementia? Telling me something is off? True...these are all true and believable. But let's talk about the "does she have dementia" part. No, she doesn't (not that we know of...yet). Has she had an assessment on that? No not yet, but did you know that PTSD mirrors symptoms of dementia? Did you know these facts: PTSD increases the risk for late-onset dementia and dementia increases the risk for delayed-onset PTSD in those who experienced a significant trauma earlier in life. PTSD can affect memory in two primary ways. First, it can affect a person's memory of traumatic events, such as causing vivid flashbacks or making it difficult to recall the memory itself. Second, it can affect a person's general memory, causing things such as: increased forgetfulness (this is her to a T). Traumas including the death of a spouse, sibling or child have also been known to cause acute onset of Alzheimer's and other dementias. A fascinating study published in January 2020 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry revealed a bidirectional relationship between PTSD and dementia. It reviewed 25 articles and found that PTSD in mid-life increased the risk for late-life dementia. Similarly, it found that having Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia later in life was associated with a greater risk of delayed development of PTSD or a worsening of symptoms related to the condition. Also, from "Amen Clinic" they say that People with PTSD face a 61% higher risk of dementia. The connection between dementia and PTSD serves to underscore the importance of recognizing PTSD and getting proper treatment as early as possible.
So deep stuff I know, but I think it needs to be talked about, it needs to be heard, and it needs to be understood. This is where I'm at with her right now is explaining to her the dialogue of her grief. Explaining to her the depth of her never crying or talking or grieving, how it's impacting her. We have great and really deep conversations and she is understanding (very very slowly) the depths of what's going on. What is going on you ask that I think the above is what's happening to her? She can't remember simple things, from today or yesterday, but years ago she can remember every single detail. She doesn't cry; she doesn't talk to anyone about the deaths, she would rather them talk to her about their lives; she has become "dormant" in life to where she is not wanting to do anything; she doesn't care if her house is a mess; she has no daily joy or ambition. These are just simple everyday things I'm seeing and recognizing. PLEASE, do not misunderstand me when you might think this is personal and I'm calling her out; that would be far from the truth. I am educating YOU as readers of signs and awareness of what the depths of grief and compounded grief can do to a human mind.
My mother n law is great; she is the most giving, empathetic person you will ever know. She cares more about you, than you do her. She would give anybody anything just to know they are loved. She just can't function fully now because she is in the deep trenches of grief and not dealing with any of it. My father n law died in February and we are slowly getting the things we need to do done that surround a death. I constantly talk to her about her feelings and dealing with those feelings; we are getting there. Just realize too, she's scared. She doesn't know herself anymore, she doesn't know where she fits into society anymore. So for her, it's easiest to bury herself in her house, lock the doors, doesn't function like a normal human, and then criticizes herself because she's mad that she can't function normal and do the daily household chores. As frustrating as it is for me (and many others), I get it. There's day's I'd like to stay in bed all day and not do anything. I just have to get her there and get her the help she needs. You also have to understand, I can't force her to do anything. SO...she will be ready to get help soon, we talked about it this morning and I've given her a timeline of how all the moving forward in life is going to go and she agreed on it with me. So, please just always give her grace if you know her, visit her without judgement and ask her about her people and not talk about yourself and your issues and mostly...pray for her peace and guidance as she moves through life alone. She's going to be okay...the only other option is she won't and we will deal with that when the time comes. But I know she CAN do this work and live a life of happiness again.
So...if you know of anyone that is similar or also has had compounded grief. Listen to them, guide them to therapy if they are willing, but most importantly give them grace and be the person they can lean on. Because TOGETHER we are BETTER and we can move through these very hard moments in life if we acknowledge the hard situations.