When my son was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of twenty-nine, his wife became his full-time caregiver. She monitored his meds, took him to chemo treatments, and prepared a special diet. When he was hospitalized, she brought healthy food into his room to replace the questionable hospital meals.
At home, she helped him shower when he was too weak to walk. As his condition worsened, she kept meticulous records of his fluid intake and outflow, oxygen levels, and pain medication schedule. She was in daily contact with the two hospice workers.
Everything came to a jarring halt when he died.
Perhaps you, too, have cared for an aging loved one. Their passing leaves a Grand Canyon-sized hole. The daily rituals and time-consuming tasks are done. For good.
You may feel like you’re in a canoe with only one paddle, circling around and around without going anywhere. It’s tempting to immediately fill the yawning time vacuum with other activities. Don’t.
• Give yourself time to grieve. Filling your time will only delay the grieving process.
• Deal with guilt. It’s normal to feel relief when a loved one passes after a long and difficult illness. Give yourself grace to feel the twin emotions of grief and guilt.
• Rest. You have been through a traumatic experience. Post-traumatic stress is real. “I haven’t been in a war,” you may say. But the truth is, you’ve gone through a wrenching time. I was with my brother when he slipped into a coma, and eventually passed away. It was traumatic watching him transition from this life to the next. I was exhausted for weeks following his sudden death. I felt like I couldn’t get enough sleep. If you’ve been caring nonstop for a loved one, their passing is distressful.
• Make a list. Write down all the activities you have put aside while caregiving. Perhaps you’ve wanted to travel, or it could be something as simple as reading a book cover to cover in one sitting. Whatever it is, write it down. This will give you hope that your life will go on.
• Grief counseling. I can’t emphasize enough the importance to talking to others who have walked your journey. After my son died, I went through a thirteen-week Grief Share group. It was a blessing to have the sympathy and empathy of fellow sufferers.
Finally, be grateful you have had the blessing of caring for your parent or loved one until the end, as difficult as it was.
For a list of caregiving resources, visit our resource page here at janesdaly.com/caregiver-support/