I had the privilege of caring for my Aunt in the final years of her life. My duties included:
My husband and I do daily check-ins to discuss our day: appointments, work schedule, etcetera and, for over 2 years, mine included Aunt Josie (sometimes managing her care was the only thing on my schedule).
The first Monday after she passed away my husband asked “what’s on your schedule today?” I tearfully responded “I don’t know”.
When I cared for my grandpa (www.alongcomesgrandpa.com) I had a sense of relief upon his passing. Don’t get me wrong I was sad and missed him greatly. However; he was 94 with a dynamic personality (often making him a pain in the butt) and, until 6 months prior to his passing, had been in fairly good health living a very good life. He had a massive stroke, was put on hospice and died a week later.
Conversely, my aunt had just turned 71 and in the preceding years had struggled with one health issue after another. The mounting health problems had made her world much smaller, and she required more of my time and attention then my grandfather had, nonetheless; when she died I felt no sense of relief just devastating loss. (see For Aunt Josie)
So the question for caregivers once your duties are over becomes
What does one do with the heartfelt sadness and the gaping void in their schedule?
Acknowledge that there has been a loss – it’s OK to be sad about losing a love one even if you feel relieved that there suffering is over. Journal about what you learned from your time as a caregiver and how you feel about the loss – both good and bad. Trying to act as if it didn’t happen or “business as usual” will only cause the grief to come out in other potentially unhealthy ways.
Feel and share the roller-coaster of emotions about the loss – it’s normal to experience sadness and anger (at what the person went through or the fact that you have to go on without them), as well as finding humor in the memories you shared.
Don’t try to fill the void – grief is a journey, it doesn’t end once the funeral is over; give yourself time to experience the empty space the loss has left. In the weeks following use the time to do something to take care of yourself – sleep in, read a book, watch TV, take a bath; things you may not have had time for when in the midst of caregiving. Trust me eventually life will fill the void for you.
Do what’s right for you in the moment – there will be times you don’t feel like talking or being around people and times when you do. Do what is right for you in that moment and don’t apologize when you feel like being alone.
Give yourself permission to make self-care a priority as you begin your grief journey. It won’t make it hurt any less but it will give you strength to do whatever else needs to be done now that the person is gone and keep move forward.
For more support visit AlongComesGrandpa.com