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The Circle of Grief for a Family Caregiver

My aunt was 95 years old and still living in her own home. Her family caregivers included myself, my brother (who lived two hours away) and another niece who lived in California. Because I lived the closest, I took on the role as primary family caregiver. During this time I also cared for both of my parents, who lived in an in-law apartment attached to our home. This was in addition to caring for my own family, which included three children – two of whom have chronic health issues. The last year of my aunt’s life was a dance of juggling medical and personal appointments for my three elderly carees and my three children. I felt like I spent every day at the doctor’s office. When my aunt entered hospice care, her niece flew in from California and rotated shifts with my brother and me so my aunt was never alone. I took my parents to see my aunt as often as I could before she died. I thought managing two wheelchairs was tough until I experienced those good-byes when our visits ended. We just never knew which good-bye would be the last one we said. The elephant in the room was the reality that, eventually, we all die. As I let go of one family member, I realized that I would soon have to do the same with my parents. My aunt was a second mother figure in my life. My aunt and uncle did not have any children, so their two nieces and nephew were their pride and joy. They treated us and loved us as if were their own children. When my aunt died, I had a hole in my heart. I imagine that losing my mother someday will be like how it felt losing my aunt. My aunt and my parents shared a physician, which proved to be an unexpected challenge after my aunt died. Informing the doctor about my aunt’s death during my parent’s appointment was awful. I struggled to keep my composure and focus on my parent’s appointment. For some people, the death of their caree can mean the end of their time as a family caregiver – at least temporarily. But in my case and that of many others, when a loved one passes, there are still others who need your care during such a difficult time. To help me deal with grief while still caregiving, I relied on the A.B.C.‘s of coping with grief:
  1. Allow yourself to grieve You have a right to cry or scream or spend time alone to reflect on how much you miss your loved one. Make time to allow your grief and other emotions to spill out rather than bottling them up.
  2. Be forgiving of your current carees Those who you are still caring for may have resented the time you spent with your family member before they died. That resentment may have made challenging days even more difficult. Forgive your caree as they deal with their own emotions around the loss and their own mortality. Forgive yourself and know you did the best you could under the given circumstances.
  3. Connect with others who are grieving Although you are still caregiving, you need to take care of the grieving aspect. Find a support group, go out with a friend to talk about your feelings or visit your family member’s grave and spend some quiet time. Being with those who have experienced the same emotions can provide emotion support or offer a new perspective that may help you in dealing with loss. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve while still caregiving and to manage your emotions during this difficult time. Grief has no set time limit. Recognize when you need to step aside and take a moment for yourself to feel what you are feeling. Emotions can hit at any moment. Allow them to happen and thank them for reminding you of your loved one.
About Lisa Lisa, a Certified Caregiving Consultant and Certified Caregiving Educator, helps others keep their marriage on tract when a caregiving situation enters the family. She cares for her mom, who lives with her family, as well as her son who has Type 1 diabetes and her daughter who has fibromyalgia. Lisa moderates a chat on on the last Friday of every month at 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. CT, 1 p.m. PT) for those who care for a family member with diabetes.