Caregivers’ Corner: Recognizing a Caregiver’s Grief

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2017 21:08

Many years ago, a day after my dad died, an old friend called. “How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m sad,” I said.

She took a deep breath and launched into a rambling reminder that my dad was in “a better place… there is really no death… he’s happy,” and on and on.

“I understand, but I miss him and I’m sad,” I said.

She forged on, oblivious to what I had just said. I tried to listen politely, and finally said, “I’m sorry, but I have to get going now,” and gently hung up.

Shortly after that I was back at work. A colleague stepped into my office and closed the door. “I’m so sorry to hear about your dad,” she said. “How are you doing?”

“I’m feeling sad,” I said.

She nodded. A tear slipped down her cheek. “My mom died six years ago, and I still miss her every day.” We sat quietly and cried together for a couple of minutes. Sharing a box of Kleenex with her, I realized I actually felt better. We both went back to work.

The second friend understood what the first didn’t: that in my grief, I was simply feeling what I was feeling and that was OK.

Whether they realize it or not, family caregivers  are in a grieving process. As a caregiver, you will experience a personal roller coaster of denial, anger, depression, bargaining, occasional acceptance, guilt and more – all the stages of grief – as you grapple with your loved one’s diagnosis and the myriad issues that surround dealing with a progressive, terminal illness.

This illness, whether swift or slow, will change and reshape your relationship with the person you are caring for, whether that person is your husband, wife, partner or parent. It will also reshape your hopes and plans for your own life. Both trigger grief.

While all this is going on, caregivers often get slammed with well-meant philosophy, advice from the clueless and loving denial from other family members and friends. Well-intentioned outsiders can have very strong opinions about what the caregiver should be thinking, feeling, doing or not doing.

The truth is, as primary caregiver you’re the one responsible for your loved one. You do the best you can for them. No one knows the situation better than you do.

It is perfectly appropriate and healthy to feel what you feel – even if you’re feeling sad, angry, resentful, guilty or fearful. Allow yourself space to notice, feel and accept hard emotions as they come along.

Notice also how others make you feel. Spend more time with family members and friends who can simply listen without judgment, help without getting in the way and who consistently make you feel better.

Spend as little time as possible with those who criticize, drain your energy or leave you feeling bad. It is not only OK but healthy to gently hang up for now on those who do not give you the support you need.

The Caregiver’s Bill of Rights by Jo Horne says it well: “I have the right to take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will enable me to take better care of my loved one.”

Trust yourself. Take good care of yourself.

Joan Jackson is a partner with husband Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (209-588-1835), whose services include free caregiver groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging. Read more of her columns online at seniorfan.com.

Copyright © 2017 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2017 21:08
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