Caring for a newly disabled spouse can be a frustrating experience, even for those who have a great support system of friends, family and counselors. There are many new things to learn and in some cases, the demands of caregiving can be at times overwhelming. Caring for someone who may be depressed over their disability adds additional stress to a marriage and may cause strained relationships with children and young adults. However, having a basic understanding of what the disabled person may be going through emotionally can prepare caregivers for the uncertainty that often lies ahead.
Stages of Grief
Life can be very difficult for a newly disabled spouse or loved one. They are mourning the loss of their abilities and worried about their future. The grief process may be a long one, and it may take months or even years before a person finds peace of mind about their condition. The following are the Five Stages of Grief according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross from her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The stages can occur in any order, and depending upon the circumstances, an individual may not feel all of the stages.
Denial. Denial is usually a temporary phase. Individuals who have been recently disabled may feel that it is only their imagination or a dream that they will soon wake up from. After several days however, reality sets in, and denial of the condition is no longer possible.
Anger. Anger is often secondary to denial. The person who has become disabled may feel that someone is to blame for their condition. Feelings of envy may also appear when the disabled person realizes that those around him or her are not suffering from the same disabling condition. When a person is in this stage of grief, they may be very difficult to care for. Caregivers may experience verbal and occasionally physical abuse from the disabled person in their care.
Bargaining. A person may think that they can bargain with God or other higher power to restore their previous, able-bodied condition.
Depression. Depression is a problem that may affect a disabled person periodically or on a regular basis. They may feel that their life is over because of their disability, so what is the point of going on? They may feel that their spouse couldn’t possibly continue loving them because of their disability, or worry about their financial status if they can no longer work. Caregivers need to be aware of the signs of depression so that they can help a person who has lost the will to live get the support that they urgently need.
Acceptance. Acceptance is the phase of grief when a disabled individual comes to terms with their condition. They realize that they can’t fight it any longer and that they need to move on in their current condition. Acceptance may take the form of a sudden revelation or epiphany, or it may take a longer period of time where the individual slowly comes to term with their condition.
Resources for Caregivers
There are many resources available to caregivers who are inexperienced or experiencing difficulties caring for a newly disabled spouse or loved one. One of the first resources you should go to is the primary physician or specialist who is caring for the disabled person. Often times there are support groups and counselors available at the medical facility where the person is being treated. Don’t wait for them to come to you, as they may not be aware of your needs.
Other resources for assistance include: