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One of the most challenging things a person can do is to care for a loved one as they approach the end of their life. Not only is it emotionally difficult to watch someone you love decline, but it can also be a physically demanding and exhausting experience. After the death of a loved one, caregivers often experience a period of bereavement. This can be a very difficult time, as caregivers may struggle with feelings of sadness, guilt, and anger. While it is normal to feel these emotions, it is important for caregivers to find ways to move through and beyond bereavement in a healthy way. In this article, we’ll discuss life after caregiving: how to move through bereavement and grief to reconnect with your purpose.

Bereavement is Complicated for Caregivers

​​It is hard to put into words the mix of grief and freedom that comes with the death of the loved one you cared for. On the one hand, there is the pain of loss, the deep feeling of emptiness that comes from knowing that someone you love is no longer in this world. And yet, there is also a sense of release, of the end of their suffering, and of finally being freed from the responsibilities of day-to-day care. For so long, you have been focused on every little detail of their lives, making sure that they were comfortable and happy. Now, they are at peace, and you are free to move forward with your own life.

But studies completed over the last few decades have shown clearly that, especially as the care recipient gets toward the end of their lives, the caregiver experiences incredible increases in stress, anxiety, personal health problems, and more. It isn’t always simple to grieve and move forward.

Caring for Yourself After Caregiving

After years of being a caregiver, it can be difficult to readjust to life without that sense of purpose. For so long, your days were dictated by the needs of the person you were caring for. You were always on call, always prepared for anything that might come up. And while it was demanding, it also gave your life a sense of purpose. Now, without that daily routine to structure your days, you may feel lost and adrift. It can be hard to find things to fill your time, and you may feel like you no longer have anything to contribute. However, it is important to remember that you have been through an incredible experience. 

You have shown immense strength and dedication, and you deserve to take this time to focus on yourself. By taking care of yourself and exploring your own interests, you can find a new sense of purpose and begin to build a rewarding life outside of caregiving.

Regaining a Sense of Purpose: Life After Caregiving

Being a caregiver can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. However, it can also be emotionally, physically, and mentally draining. If you find yourself feeling lost or without purpose after caregiving, here are five ways to help you regain your sense of self:

1. Connect with others who have experienced it. 

Whether it’s online or in person, connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly helpful. Sharing your experiences and hearing about others’ journeys can remind you that you’re not alone.

Here are some places to look:

  • A caregiver support group
  • Friends and family that knew your loved one or helped with care
  • Supportive Facebook groups
  • Professional counseling to help you walk through the more complicated and personal emotions

2. Get involved in activities that make you feel good. 

No matter what you enjoy – whether it’s volunteering, exercising, or simply spending time outdoors – doing things that make you feel good can help you to regain a sense of purpose.

Reconnect with the things you loved before caregiving. Some examples include:

  • Read or reread a book
  • Sketch or draw
  • Plant a garden
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Sew or knit
  • Bake or cook
  • Go for a walk on the beach
  • Listen to a podcast
  • Redecorate part of your home
  • Call a friend

3. Spend time with loved ones.

Spending time with loved ones (whether friends or family) can help you to reconnect to what’s important in life. This is especially true if these relationships took a backseat while you were providing care. It can be a great way to recharge your batteries and feel refreshed.

4. Give yourself time.

Some caregivers move through grief exceptionally well because they watched the health decline or the aging process up close. Through this experience, many go through anticipatory grief, which (while difficult at the time) often makes the grieving after death process a little simpler.

Other caregivers have an exceptionally difficult time processing the death of the loved one in their care. Regardless of how you think you should handle grief, the reality is that there’s no “one size fits all” for grieving. You may feel numb, resentful, grateful, guilty, angry, proud, frustrated, or relieved – it’s common to experience an entire spectrum of emotions.

Give yourself time to process these emotions. It will take patience, time, and effort, but leave space for bereavement grief however it may manifest itself.

Closing Thoughts

Grief is an especially intense and common experience for caregivers after the death of their loved one. You aren’t alone, even if it feels like it.

If you provide regular care to your loved one, we are here for you. As a caregiver, you’re faced with new challenges every day. The California Caregiver Resource Centers are a network of eleven independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations across California. They were created with you both in mind and at heart to be a free resource as you navigate the challenging role you’re in. We would love to connect you with your local Center, where they can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer your questions, and explain how they can best support you.

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