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Grief brain is real. As real as cancer brain or baby brain. As a caregiver, I tracked medications, appointments, side effects and everything that did not have to do with those urgent activities got shoved out of my brain. Weeks could go by, either in a flash or crawling glacially. Someone could call me and I might call back that day or in weeks, completely unconscious of which it was. Also, I was always exhausted and overwhelmed.

For me now, it’s fuzzy thinking and poor retention of certain information, like dates I am seeing people, following up on to-dos, paying bills, opening mail. Once, I asked my mother, who was staying over one night, five times when she was coming. Finally, I told her just to text it to me! I still have not opened all of the amazing cards I got after Dave died because I got so tired of weeping every day. I was worried about my memory for paying bills (and had heard from others it might be a challenge), so I paid rent for several months in advance after Dave died. I thought I had paid my rent through March. This morning, I found out I was wrong. I was only covered through February.

So now I’m scrambling to get my rent paid for this month and April is almost here. Aargh! I am so embarrassed but grief brain is a real thing. I am not the only one who has experienced this. The bills include basic bills like rent or mortgage, electric, internet, phone but also residual bills from hospitals, medical centers, diagnostic laboratories and so opening ALL bills gets painful. And here I am, in a mess. Now, I have no doubt, I will sort this out ASAP but I feel terrible that I am behind on my rent and when I get the red-marked envelopes which signal danger.

Despite my own embarrassment, shame and guilt, I am more committed to bringing out these conversations which become secrets rather than treating these experiences of caregivers and the bereaved, like grief brain, with compassion and support. As secrets, they fester. As secrets, we don’t ask for help because we might be judged for our mistakes. As secrets, we stop being honest with those who love us, silenced by our own unspoken feelings. Enough!

What can be done? Here are three specific action steps that help:
Step 1: Be open to any conversation, about feelings, inaction or actions taken. Tears happen sometimes. They aren’t about you.
Step 2: Withhold judgement and listen first for what you can DO for the person (their most urgent priorities will show up).
Step 3: DON’T ask what they want you to do! Grief brain means I often have no idea (and I’m very good at asking). Based on the conversation you had before, make suggestions of things you could do for them. “Yes” or “No”, your offer matters. If they say, “Yes,” just do it (asking for guidance on how THEY want it done as you go).

Thank you. If you are reading this you probably are a caregiver or bereaved or you love someone who is. Grateful always for your caring.