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When Caregivers Lose a Loved One

Published on Jul 05, 2016
Authored by Warachal Faison, MD

Whether your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s or another long-term disease, coping with loss can be a big part of caregiving. And yet preparing for loss is often the last thing on a caregiver’s mind. You may be thinking: Isn’t there enough to do already?   

It’s an important—and often unavoidable—part of caregiving. Learn about grief and what you may need to do before and after a loss.

Caring For Yourself

Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver—and one of the most easily forgotten.

Despite the consuming nature of caregiving, it’s important that you consider the following:

  • Take care of yourself by eating well, sleeping enough, exercising, and seeing your doctor when necessary
  • Create time for yourself away from your caregiving duties. For example, participating in social activities with your own family and friends
  • Join a support group or create a nurturing network of people who appreciate your challenges and let you discuss your personal thoughts without judgment

Not sure how well you take care of yourself while caregiving? Find out by taking this simple assessment at the American Geriatrics Society’s Health In Aging website.

Grieving After Caregiving

Grief after the loss of a loved one is normal and expected, and may last for some time—for most people the grieving process may take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. The process of grieving is to come to a place of acceptance.  

Of course, for a caregiver, the sudden absence of the caregiving duties and the loss of a loved one may be jarring and difficult to adjust to. Accepting loss after caregiving may seem like a monumental task, but starting over can be done in small steps, taking one challenge at a time.

Many people go through a grieving process that may involve any of the following, in any order:

  • Depression
  • Resentment
  • Guilt, focusing on questions such as: “Did I do enough? Should I have made different choices? Would it have mattered? Could I have stopped the suffering or the death? Have I failed?”
  • Doubt about feeling relieved (e.g., “Is it okay to feel this way? Am I relieved that the suffering is over, or that I have my life back, or both?”)
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Withdrawal from social activities and friends

How quickly and easily a caregiver passes through this process may depend on various factors, such as the particular circumstances of the illness and the care needed, the caregiver’s personality, the nature of the relationship involved, and the kind of support and resources available throughout the caregiving process.

Coping with Loss

It is important to understand that no matter how well you prepare for it, grieving is a process that may bring you closer to recovery from loss. It’s important to give yourself time to feel all your emotions because no matter what you do, it’s not healthy to bypass or rush through the mourning process. Don’t keep your feelings to yourself; for example, start a journal, and talk to someone you trust about what you are going through. Also, try to engage in activity that brings you comfort. Keeping busy can help you through this difficult time.

All people grieve differently, so however it happens for you, make sure to remind yourself that it takes time to come to terms with the loss of a loved one and that there is no “normal” time period to grieve.

If you have questions about dealing with grief, speak with your doctor or a mental health professional for additional resources and support.

Dr. Faison is a geriatric psychiatrist and Medical Director, Women’s and Men’s Health at Pfizer.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]


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