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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Separation--Can we be prepared? September 19, 2013

All through the lives of children, parents try to prepare themselves and their offspring for separations. Some families send their children to grandparents in other states during school holidays, some children attend sleep away camps while others settle for sleep-overs at friends' homes. 

These days with so many children living in divorced families, the children spend time with one parent or the other, permitting the parents to feel and adjust to the separation from the children.

Once we have accomplished the goal of rearing our children and they go off to college or to the armed services, we concentrate more on establishing peer friendships as well as strengthening our bonds with our spouses and we must readapt ourselves when we or our friends move to retirement homes, become ill or pass away. I also hear about spouses who divorce after 44 years of marriage; the empty nest adjustment is quite difficult for some couples.

Our now adult children have to deal with the separation from family members as they pursue their livelihoods and raise their own families. With the proliferation of social media, the young of today are able more than ever to keep in touch with friends from earlier phases of their lives, reducing their feelings of isolation which plague some older adults who move and need to make new friends wherever they go.

Those of us who are caregivers for an invalid or dementia afflicted spouse or parent also separate very slowly from our loved ones. We trace the steps in reverse with our loved one becoming more and more dependent upon us as they age and become less able to perform "the tasks of daily living" for themselves. The process starts so slowly sometimes that we don't realize for quite a while that our partner or parent is not there for us--the relationship has become one-sided. Once that realization hits and we begin to be concerned that we will not be able to care for our loved one at home, we need to reassess the separation process once again. Slowly we need to prepare ourselves and our loved one by having volunteers come to the house to provide respite care for us, by asking friends and family to take turns caring for the person or by hiring someone to do so, so both parties can begin to adjust to the separation that will occur.

We are often not sensitive to the difficulty of this process; we have forgotten the pain of separation on the children's first day of school. The familiarity, the intimacy of caring for a loved one is ingrained in the caregiver and in the recipient; it is the only part of the relationship that survives, even when it is difficult. It is part of the reason deciding to place a loved one in a facility is so hard to do and takes so much time and considered thought. 

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