Feeling Lost After Caregiving Ends
You’ve spent weeks, months, maybe even years caring for your loved one. Whether that was a parent, spouse, aunt, uncle, best friend or child, the loss is devastating. You may feel relief in a way now that they are no longer suffering. You may feel overwhelming sadness, guilt, regret, anger…the list of emotions goes on and on. But one feeling you may not have been prepared for is loneliness. It’s quite common to feel an emptiness after your loved one is gone, not just because they’re no longer physically there but because you don’t know what to do with your time now that you are no longer a caregiver. Bereavement services in Alameda County and elsewhere can ease this feeling.
Facing the Transition
When caring for a loved one becomes your life, what purpose do you have once that person is gone? This is a common question we get from bereaved family members who took a strong caregiving role in their loved one’s life. Suddenly, they feel the loss of the person they cared for, compounded by a feeling of being lost, of trying to reconnect with who they once were before they were thrust into the caregiver role.
Caring for another adult can be so demanding that caregivers put much of their own lives on hold. Then, when their duties suddenly come to a halt, the caregiver is left to grieve the loss, to be sure, but also to process new emotions about their own place in life, says the AARP. You’re not alone: there are more than 40 million unpaid caregivers of adults ages 65 and older in the United States; of them, nine in 10 provide care for an aging relative such as a parent, according to the Pew Research Center.
Many find they’re not really sure what to do with themselves because their all-consuming job, their very reason for getting up in the morning, has ended. Many people, in fact, spend the first six months to a year after the loss just trying to find their bearings. Indeed, it can take a long time to feel like yourself again.
Here are some tips to make the transition easier.
Be sure to keep yourself busy in order to fight loneliness and depression. Find something that gives you purpose. That may be traveling, scrapbooking, gardening or photography. For others, such as those in the sandwich generation, it’s focusing on their own family and work life for a change.
Write in a journal. Expect the unexpected. You may be hit with emotions when you least expect it. Attend support groups, tell your story, keep their memory alive. Get rest. Remember, the physical and emotional toll is extensive, brought on by months of lack of sleep and caring for someone else’s needs. Take care of yourself, go to the doctor’s, get regular checkups, do “you” time. Let go of any guilt you may have been feeling.
Forgiving yourself is another way to heal. Caregivers often feel very guilty about not being the perfect caregiver at all times. Recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. We all get angry, impatient, and frustrated at some point. Don’t second guess yourself with all the “what ifs.” You did the best you could and you need to celebrate how well you handled your role.
If you gave up your job to care for your loved one, and you’re not ready to retire at this point, get out into the job market again. Put out feelers, contact old co workers, tap into your professional networks. While it’s normal to feel adrift in the world, you need to figure out who you are right now.
Delay the Big Things
When your role as caregiver ends, put off making major life changes, such as selling your house or getting remarried, as grief and exhaustion can cloud big decisions. Give yourself time to go through everything at your own pace for that first year. Then, as the second year approaches, consider the changes you may want to make. There’s no harm in moving slowly. You will gain clarity and insight this way. Initially after experiencing a loss, you may want to run away, sell the house, move somewhere else where you’re not reminded of the loss. But resist this. Keep up with family routines, maintain comfort in your own space, and get solace from the everyday. There will come a time you will be glad you stayed put.
Give Yourself Permission to Move On
When it comes to caring for and then losing a spouse, the guilt about moving on is compounded. You may have cared for your spouse for many months or years, tending to their every need. You may never have thought that you would have room in your heart to love someone else, but it can and does happen. Not right away, but certainly it’s possible. First, you have to release yourself of guilt and give yourself permission to move on. You are still quite alive and deserve to be happy!
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
We offer comprehensive bereavement services that include support groups, workshops and memorials to help you with the transition. Contact us at 888-978-1306 today to learn more.