Looking ahead while looking behind isn’t an easy thing to do. Family caregivers, however, often dwell on what still can be seen in their rearview mirror. This, typically, occurs after the loss of a loved one – one of the most traumatic things a caregiver can face. Granted, losing a loved one can leave a family caregiver emotionally rocked. However, when this happens, family caregivers may not fully consider that while someone close has died that their own lives will continue. Healing and moving on may seem out of the question. Is it possible?
Yes, but both take time, patience, and personal effort. Consider that, after giving to someone else so much for many months or even years, a caregiver can feel tremendous loss – not only with regarding the loss of a loved one, but also a loss of personal purpose. A caregiver’s entire life can focus on the health and well-being of a loved one and it can be difficult to change course and redirect one’s attention back to oneself. Regaining one’s own life is not always easy, but it is possible. From my own experience, I learned that personal recovery can be slow. Taking the time to heal is crucial …. following my own parents’ deaths, someone once counselled me that grieving is a personal process and to take as much time as I needed. I believe there is a great deal of truth to this advice. Accept your feelings of loss and do not rush.
Before “moving on”, it can be beneficial to identify why you’re grieving, lacking the energy or desire to do anything, or completely withdrawing. Here are several options … you may be feeling these thoughts and many others:
- You feel like you can only focus on your loss.
- You separate yourself from certain activities as they remind you of your loved one.
- You may not want to “push” yourself … taking steps forward to heal seems impossible, requires far too much effort, and has uncertain results. You may consider not “pushing” yourself as a safer decision.
Please consider these further recommendations which may help you “move on”:
- Talk it out: Keeping your grief and feelings hidden isn’t always healthy. Verbalize what you are feeling and find an empathetic ear to listen.
- Return to work: If you have taken some bereavement time off from work, consider returning to your career. If jumping back in on a full-time basis seems too much, propose working part-time until you are back up to normal speed.
- Give back: Find a means to share your knowledge and experience. Volunteer or change your career entirely (caregiving can provide one with many transferable skills which could be used in new employment). For me, caregiving led to a much stronger focus on writing and I shared what I had learned with other caregivers. I’ve also voluntarily served on the board of directors for a nonprofit caregiver’s association.
- Get a pet: Visit the SPCA and adopt a furry new friend. You will have a new focus of attention and will still be providing care and receiving love back – albeit at different levels. If you are planning to bring a dog into your home, remember these animals require far more activity and attention than cats. Therefore, you can expect to be routinely walking your dog; doing so will also encourage you to move, escape the confines of your own home, and socialize with others (all good things to help you heal).
- Get some help: Professionals can help to counsel you through this difficult time. Find a therapist who you are comfortable with. Another idea could be a support group; if you aren’t comfortable with joining such a group, try searching for on-line groups where you can remain anonymous. I joined a bereavement group shortly after my father passed away and found it very beneficial.
When thinking ahead following a loved one’s death, you don’t have to completely let go of the past or completely stop looking in your rearview mirror. It just means coming to terms with your loss and taking proactive steps to do so.
Rick Lauber has written two books, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (both published by Self-Counsel Press). He has also served on the board of directors for Caregivers Alberta.