IN THE NEWS
"Stepping out of safety and into who you want to be, especially after a loss, is an awesome way to rediscover who you are, and what you have to offer. (Finding someone who wants to marry you after you have been widowed twice before age 50 is pretty amazing too)." - Jill A. Johnson-Young, LCSW
When midlife or senior clients come to therapy with new mental health symptoms, dementia may be overlooked as the cause. How can mental health professionals help?
“There’s a reason for everything.” Feelings about death are often tied closely to spirituality and religion, so the things that you find most reassuring after a death may not be as comforting to others. If you see death as part of a bigger plan, that’s great — but you should be mindful about making assumptions that others believe the same. Also, this “assumes that some power is choosing to have your loved one die, and that you are supposed to be okay with it and find some purpose in their death,” licensed clinical social worker and grief specialist Jill Johnson-Young points out. That can feel like a lot of pressure, even to people whose beliefs have room for positivity around death.
Moving to a new house isn't always a welcome prospect. When you're not thrilled about leaving your beloved family home behind, a proper goodbye can help with the transition. These meaningful ways honor the old house while fostering hope for the next chapter of your life in the new house.
1. Throw a House Cooling Party
Host a party before moving day? It seems counterproductive. But a house cooling party is a great way to empty your pantry and fridge. Most importantly, it's a gathering to reflect on the memorable times you had in the house with family and friends. For a thoughtful and fun activity for the kids (and yourself), create a friendship board with pictures of the new house on it. Have everyone sign the board and take plenty of pictures of the guests so you can attach the pictures to the board later. "This will give your kiddos the ability to take those people with them and to see them in their new home—hopefully encouraging post-move friendships," suggests Jill Johnson-Young, LCSW, CEO and Clinical Director at Central Counseling Services in California. When you're done eating and reminiscing, here's a great idea for sending your guests home with a parting gift: assign one room for stuff you don't want to take with you, and invite your friends to browse the items and take what they want.
Talk to your utility company. While it might not be the first place you'd consider tapping as a caregiver, Jill Johnson-Young suggests remembering that your utility company may be able to help you if, say, you're running any special equipment necessary for a loved one to live at home.
Since the early 1990s, Johnson-Young has been a licensed clinical social worker in Riverside, California, and runs a support group for dementia caregivers. She also has firsthand experience taking care of ill loved ones. Her first and second wives died, respectively, of pulmonary fibrosis in 2010, and Lewy body dementia in 2013. She also helped her mother care for her father for 10 years.
Johnson-Young says that if you have medical equipment running in your home, and it's impacting your bill, call your electric company, which may be able to lower it.
"Most utilities have a program for that, and it also means [that] if there's an outage, your home goes on a priority list for getting back online," she says.
Check out thrift stores. Say your insurance company refuses to pay for equipment your loved one needs; you may have luck finding it at a thrift store that's connected to a church, Johnson-Young says.
"We have a large Seventh-day Adventist presence in our area, and their church often had DME – durable medical equipment – available at no or low cost," she says.
Utilize social media. These platforms offer great ways to reach out for help or to link up with groups of folks who are grappling with similar caregiving issues, Johnson-Young adds.
"They have ideas from practical experience, and [these groups are] also a great place to vent without being seen by family," she says. "The Lewy group I still belong to frequently links families together for mutual assistance and for care packages to lighten the caregiver's load for a moment."
Kids need space to grieve. Jill Johnson-Young, LCSW, and author of The Grief Workbook and Someone Is Sick – How Do I Say Goodbye? says that, “When I work with kiddos expecting a death I use honest language, and real language. ‘Have you noticed that Nanny is slowing down/losing weight/not eating as much/can’t play like she used to? She’s not well. In fact, she is sick, and we have to start getting ready to say goodbye.'”
This will, of course, probably bring you to tears. That’s okay. Hoffman says we need to let our kids see us cry, get angry about the loss, feel pain, and yes, use the dreaded d-word. “The greatest way to teach children anything is to do it ourselves so think about what you want your kids to do and do the same. It takes a good leader to always be strong, it takes a great leader to lead even while vulnerable or compromised. Be a great leader.”
Johnson-Young affirms that dealing with the death of a pet will help them learn about death, life, and treasuring memories. “It’s the best way to help them deal with loss as adults.”
Johnson-Young suggests that we begin the process of grieving while Mingus is still around — before that last trip to the vet. “I would encourage some sort of goodbye while she is still alive, like an ‘I love you circle’ where you all pet her and tell her what memories you will always have of her. If you have a belief in an afterlife, then pets go to heaven. Reassure them that you are not as old as [Mingus], and that you are well and will not be dying. Allow them to process. Do not spring this on them at the last moment.”