As caregivers, we willingly take care of family or friends. There are doctor’s appointments to go to, special diets to adhere to, trips to drug stores, and sleepless nights. We often put our own lives on hold while we hold our breath, spending last days with those we love. Then, our worlds change. The roles we had are gone. Time is our own again and sometimes we feel lost.
Dealing with loss as a caregiver might be different from any other loss you have felt. You may experience a variety of different and sometimes difficult emotions. You may feel overwhelmed by pain or sadness. These are normal reactions due to the death of a loved one, made all the more sharp because of your connection as caregiver.
What you need to remember is that there is no right way or wrong way to grieve, and each of us grieves different losses differently. Grieving is a personal and individual experience. The way you cope will not be the same as the way another person does; we all have different past life experiences, faiths and support systems that shape the way we handle loss.
You also need to realize that the grieving process takes time, and the amount of time needed to heal is different for everyone. Healing does happen, but it is gradual. There will be times when you may feel like the pain is as fresh as it was in the beginning. Anniversaries, first holidays and birthdays may bring the realization up front again. Know that in time the pain lessens. Time passes, and it permits you to move on.
Most important to remember is to take care of yourself as you go through the grieving process. As a caregiver, you may have gotten out of the habit of putting yourself first, however, it is important to take time for you. It is also ok to ask for help. There are bereavement support groups available through a variety of agencies, including hospices, hospitals, temples and churches, and there is likely a group located in a community close to where you live. However, groups are not for everyone. If that is the case, there are social workers and therapists available for one to one counseling.
Caregiving for a loved one is often very rewarding, but can also be demanding and difficult. At a time of loss, try to focus on the positive memories, and allow yourself the time to grieve.
By Dorian Froelich, LCSW
Dorian is the Director of Social Work and Admissions at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. For more information about the services Gurwin offers, visit www.gurwin.org.