For many family caregivers who are providing for a parent or senior loved one, caregiving is a full-time job without any breaks or vacation. So is it any wonder that after the all-consuming responsibilities of supporting a loved one have subsided, that caregivers are left with a new set of challenges and emotions to contend with?
Learn more about life after caregiving and four steps you can take to invest in yourself during this time.
An article entitled “My Life After Caregiving and the Long Goodbye” was recently published in the Huffington Post and profiled the experience of Dayna Steele, an adult child who cared for her Alzheimer’s disease-stricken mother for three years, from the time of her diagnosis until her death.
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Steele describes her experience as a “former caregiver” and highlights her initial feelings of relief after her mother’s death. She explains:
“In the three years leading up to her death, I watched, powerless, as Alzheimer’s warped the active, caring woman I’d always known into a complete stranger… As much as I loved the mother I’d known before “the long goodbye,” she was already long gone. I couldn’t help but feel relieved to say a final farewell to the stranger she had become.”
Relief is an extremely common feeling among former caregivers and is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. The Family Caregiver Alliance explains that “many caregivers feel relieved that their ordeal is over and that the care receiver is no longer suffering.”
Steele experienced other common emotions in the wake of her mother’s death, such as guilt, loneliness, reflection and sadness. She states that she handled these reactions by crying and grieving, which helped her recovery. “One lesson I’ve learned — just cry. It’s the body’s all-natural way of releasing overwhelming emotions and it’s a perfectly healthy way to grieve and recover.”
The period of bereavement and grief that comes when caregiving ends is not something you can expect to recover from overnight. Often the process of reconciling your grief can take years and these feelings will still tend to creep up on you from time to time for the rest of your life.
Birthdays and holidays can be especially challenging, but there is hope for the future.
Grieving is a time to care for and invest in yourself and here are some suggestions on how to do just that after caregiving:
There are a variety of support groups for former caregivers both in-person and online. Reach out to a bereavement counselor or religious leader or connect with a community on Facebook.
Reinvesting in yourself means seeking fulfillment and wholeness for your body, mind and spirit. Focus on exercise and healthy eating; pursue a new hobby or interest; make your home your own again and actively seek out other things that bring you closer to wholeness.
In the early days of grief, remembering your parent or senior loved one can be painful and you may tend to focus on their last days or months of life. Over time it will become less difficult and perhaps even healing to remember positive memories and times you shared with your loved one before their illness.
Chances are you have spent the better part of the last few years in a state of exhaustion. Now is the time to renew your energy and sleep.
Are you a former caregiver? What activities or advice do you have for other caregivers after caregiving? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.