Caregiver No More

life after caregivingWe are born selfish. The only thing that matters to us in our earliest days is being fed, sleeping when we need it, and being comforted when we want it.

When we’re a little older, and we begin walking and talking and interacting with others, some of this starts to change. We’re expected to be patient, to share with friends, and to use our manners.

As time passes, expectations grow. Hold the door for others before you walk in. Don’t eat until everyone has been served. We are taught that others’ needs come before our own.

With maturity, in marriage and with parenting, the sacrifices continue. How quickly we go from “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to learning how to forfeit our interests for the sake of others. It seems that to be a “good” adult we must recognize that what we want isn’t always the primary concern.

Of course there’s a need for this. To be part of a society and to get along with others, we do need to learn some of these “rules” of benevolence.

But, oh, how quickly we lose the balance. And nothing is a greater example of this than the caregiver.

The caregiver by definition is one who is characterized by little more than the fact that they are providing affection, attention, and protection for another person – usually at the sake of their own needs and wants (and health, sleep, relaxation and general well-being).

This doesn’t mean that every caregiver is a selfless saint motivated by nothing other than goodness and altruism. Some may be caring out of duty, or loyalty, while others do it because there is simply no one else who can or will.

Regardless of the reason, the one thing caregivers have in common is this: the very large void that is left after the one they have been caring for has died.

For some, dealing with the void that opens during life after caregiving may be simple – needing to readjust their routine and figuring out how they’re going to use their new-found time. But for others the void is more significant. Because in many cases, not only have they lost a person they love, but they may have lost the very essence of their identity and purpose. Am I still a husband or wife if my spouse has died? A son or daughter if my parents are gone?

Those trying to comfort a caregiver after their loss may say, “now you have time to do everything you couldn’t do before!” thinking that surely the caregiver must be feeling a significant relief now that they are no longer burdened with all they had to do before.

The problem is most caregivers don’t feel that they were “burdened” (at least in the way that others would probably expect) and this idea of doing what they want is so completely foreign that they have no idea where to start.

The challenge is that there are no easy answers and the solution is different for everyone. But bottom line, life after caregiving means caregivers need to re-learn how to direct some of their time, energy and concern back to themselves.

Start slowly and stick to the basics.

  1. Focus on your health. What doctor’s appointments have you skipped? Schedule those. Have you not been eating well? Take the time you now have to plan meals, food shop and cook. If you’re worried about the larger portions, buy single serve containers and freeze the leftovers. Concentrate on sleep, getting outdoors, and exercise if you’re able.
  2. Focus on your environment. If the car needs an oil change, if there are projects around the house, if there are things that have been neglected or need to be taken care of, address those. Ask for help when you need it, hire someone if you can. Take pride in the challenge of the things you can fix and accomplish.
  3. Focus on your relationships. Many times caregivers find themselves disconnected from the rest of the world. If they were caring for a loved one for a very long time, it may mean it’s been quite a while since there has been an opportunity to connect with friends and family. Reach out, schedule lunches and outings as you feel up to it. Reconnecting with those we care about is a wonderful way to pass the time and to remember that we’re not alone.

In most cases it takes years, even decades, to bring us to the mindset of not really knowing who we are, what we want, or what comes next. So be patient as the “what’s next?” part of life after caregiving begins to unfold. It can’t be forced and it won’t happen overnight.

But with time (the time a caregiver may now feel they have an abundance of) the answers can begin to be found.

9 thoughts on “Caregiver No More”

  1. I am so glad a site like this exists.. I been lost and alone for almost four years now. Still mourning my husband and the best of myself. Don’t know why or how to move on from here. That’s honestly where I am. Lost.

  2. Thank you for your comment, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. As I’m sure you’ve found, time (especially after a loved one has died) is such a relative thing. While time can take some of the sting away from the early and acute phases of grief, it doesn’t mean that any amount of time can erase the hurt and pain. I’m glad you’ve found us – this site has been designed for you and is here to help. I hope you find some comfort and support here.

  3. This is so me!! Except the guilt I feel
    Is unbelievable- crushing, breathtaking. I cared for both of my parents.,my dad passed 3 years ago, my mom died suddenly June 14,2016- I’m an only child with a husband and two sons yet this void is unbearable
    I feel I wasn’t kind enough or did enough for my mom-
    We argued because I pushed her to do therapy and try and to do more
    I can’t forgive myself – I feel like I missed something
    She was talking to me one minute then called for me
    The paramedics couldn’t help her..,

    1. Hello Christine I am sorry for your loss. It is very difficult being the caregiver of a parent. We often do our best and are left with thoughts that we haven’t done enough, or haven’t always been kind enough, or haven’t paid enough attention, and the list of not enough is endless. But in truth I bet you did the best you could to care for both of your parents. And our best is all we can do. Our stories are different but very much the same. I hope that you are able to forgive yourself because I bet this is what your Mom would want you to do.

  4. I wonder if there is anyone who was a parent of an adult child with special needs? Our son was 32 and had Down Syndrome. His passing was unexpected as he had no heart problems and no health problems other than lymphedema. He was unique and very much loved. I have not been able to find a group with similar needs to ours. He was always with one of us 24/7 and needless to say we are devastated and trying to place one foot in front of the other but the sadness is often overwhelming. It has been five weeks since his passing.

    1. Hi Annie, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. If you haven’t already, please join our site today http://www.griefincommon.com/login/login
      Once signed in you can post your question on our forums, “See and Share Stories” or create and search profiles to find a match. I’m glad that you have found our site and hope you find the help and support you are looking for…

  5. I had never thought of myself as a caregiver before but I have come to realize that the things I did so naturally, adjusting recipes to no salt, cooking for a heart failure diet to, towards the end, helping him off the couch and into bed, even to the point of helping him off the toilet were really being a caregiver. Now I don’t really want to cook or eat at all.

  6. I’m struggling to find my purpose since the loss of my momma the day before Mother’s Day last year. I was her caregiver for two years until she lost her battle with cancer. She was my everything and I’m just lost without her. I ache for the day when we are together again in Heaven. It’s as if I’m trying to live without a vital organ. I just don’t know how to do that.

  7. I unexpectedly became caregiver to my Aunt. She was my mother in all respects except giving birth to me. Within six weeks of going to visit her she was dead from end stage lung cancer. She never smoked or drank, was never married and I know she loved me fiercely. So fiercely she never told me how unwell she was and neither did my mother. I have gotten through the first year but now the house is sold (willed to my brother) I am back into acute grief. It is so hard being Aunty’s girl when I have not seen or heard her in sixteen months. To top it all off my cancer is causing pain for the first time in fifteen years. I am at a loss to make any sense of this. I know my heart is broken and it has meded in the past … just now I am struggling.

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