Rena Perlmutter

Ambiguous Loss Part 2

More often than we realize, people find themselves in a state of emotional grieving. Couples who divorce need to grieve the loss of a dream. No one gets married thinking that the marriage will end in a divorce.

Retirees who lose their jobs find themselves grieving their youth, because they are no longer needed at the office and younger men are hired for their positions.  Retirement can cause great emotional turmoil.

Parents who are raising a child with special needs, such as a child who has mental challenges, need to recognize that there is an element of loss. Denying any loss will cause some element of emotional harm.

There are no rituals or routines that are assigned to ambiguous loss.

How does a person handle the loss?

Here are some tools to help a person become more resilient during a period of ambiguous loss.

  • Communicate

No one is prepared to raise a child who is mentally challenged or to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s.  Discuss with your family members how you are going to divide up the new roles that need to be filled.  Prioritize boundaries, what is considered a red line, and the

consequences.  You don’t need to see eye to eye on every issue, but there needs to be a discipline plan.  Have a unified front and, if need be, go to a third party for help.  This will allow the relationship withyour family to thrive.

  • Find meaning          

Victor Frankel says, “Without meaning there is no hope, without       hope there is no meaning.”   When grieving a person who is still alive, one needs to find purpose.  Life can become very confusing when living the paradox that arises when a person is alive, but no longer physically here or no longer emotionally present.

For parents who are raising a child who is mentally challenged, it is important to identify what the new challenges are for you as a parent. What does it mean to you to be taking care of a child with mental challenges?

How has it affected your life?  What have you gained from becoming a parent of a special needs child?  How can you look for the good in these very dark times?

According to Dr.  Pauline Boss, what causes a person to get stuck and not create a life with meaning, is isolation, anger, revenge, and family secrets.

  • Let Go

Life is not fair.  We need to realize that not everything in life is in our control.  When a child is suffering from a mental challenge, or has a physical illness, or a parent is suffering from Alzheimer’s, it is not in a parents’ or the care giver’s control.

Recognizing what is in your control and what is not in your control   allows you as parent/caregiver to detach.  What is not in your control is no longer your problem to solve.  Parents tend to get stuck in feeling guilty. Sentences that begin with,  “if only I would have” or “I should have …”, cause a person to wallow in guilt .  This is only going to harm yourself and your family.

Self-care is always in your control.  Self-care is being aware of one’s own needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Meditation, mindfulness, prayer, music, and exercise are some ways to reduce the stress of feeling powerless.  This will enable the parent or child to be a better parent or child.

Some challenges to awareness of self-care are fear, isolation, and waiting for change, causing a person to become stuck.  Be aware and do not allow yourself to isolate.   Recovery does not happen in a vacuum.  Learn to accept the offers of help and support of your loved ones.  A healthy parent is a healthy child.

Always remember you are not alone. Your situation is not unique. Try and reach out and find a support group, where you can learn from other people’s journeys. The group will also validate your feelings and give you the tools to succeed. This is not instead of one-on-one therapy.

  • Redefine your relationship.

For children whose parents are suffering from a form of dementia, it means role reversals which are not natural roles to play.  For parents whose children are suffering from mental challenges, it means redefining your expectations.  It might mean that your child is taking longer to reach their age-appropriate goals.  Hopefully they will be able to live independent lives, but for today their needs are different, and one must adjust accordingly. A parent can mourn the loss of the child they once knew, while building this new relationship

  • Cognisance of your feelings.

Parents of emotionally and mentally challenged children are living in   constant uncertainty and emotional turmoil.  These are your feelings, and they are legitimate.

At times it feels as if one is riding an emotional roller coaster.  There will be good days and bad days and these conflicting emotions toward your child or parent are normal.

Be aware of your emotions so they can be managed.  Do not deny your feelings because it will come out at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

  • Revisiting Attachment

Revisiting attachment means holding on to the old relationship while creating a new relationship with the family member.   Your child’s needs from you as a parent are not the same as they were before he started having mental health challenges.

Identity crises can be a result of an ambiguous loss.  When someone finds himself needing to play the role of the caretaker, it needs to be recognized as another job.  At times a person might feel angry for being forced into the new job.  Other times they might feel grateful for the opportunity.  Recognize that plans to pursue a career or an education, might have to be put on hold.

Life is like a growing tree. Being mindful and allowing yourself to be present affords one the ability to grow in any situation.  Acceptance versus denial allows someone to do it with pride and dignity.  This might not have been the ideal journey for yourself or your loved ones.  Give yourself and them  the right to own that journey.

Living with uncertainty can cause one to feel a loss of hope.  Find hope during this uncertain time in your life.  Helping others who are in the same position fosters hope.  Sharing what you have learned enables a person to view their own personal growth.  Allow yourself to imagine your life when your child will be in a healthier place.   At times, parents are so full of fear that they often forget to remember their blessings.  Your challenging child will still bring you love, joy and awareness of things for which to be grateful.

Rena Perlmutter, Parent Coach

About the Author
Rena Perlmutter is a mother of 5. Originally from California, she has lived in Beit Shemesh for 25 years. With a Bsc in Education, a Ministry of Education Parenting Coach certification, Rena combines DBT and twelve steps in her practice. Rena specializes in coaching parents of teens who are struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders.
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