If you’ve had a long caregiving journey as I did, when your spouse or family member dies you may wonder what happened to your life, the one you had before caregiving became your life. It may seem impossible to find that old life. You may have dropped out of activities you enjoyed. Your friends may have abandoned you. How do you get back to living while still grieving your loss?
The Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation in a September 5, 2016 online article outlines what we caregivers sacrificed to fulfill the caregiving role: on the job focus, potential career advancement, finances, physical and emotional health and social connections.
The article suggests the care recipient’s death can result in guilt and depression experienced by the caregiver. Feeling relief that their burden of care is gone can turn into guilt thinking that more could have been done near the care recipient’s end of life. There can be confusion about the caregiver’s life purpose, and loneliness, because as their social connections vanished their last social connection, the care recipient, is gone.
The Crossroads article offers eight tips on coping with grief and rebuilding your life after caregiving.
1. Use rituals as a tool: simple things that bring you to a place of calm and remembrance of your loved one, perhaps things you used to do together.
2. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need to feel being honest with yourself.
3. Take time-outs from the sadness: go fishing, see a funny movie, go for a walk.
4. Seek help from a licensed therapist.
5. Rebuild socially after caregiving ends.
6. Begin reaching out to trusted family members and friends with a phone call, meeting for coffee or lunch.
7. Re-establish connections with your faith group and community programs.
8. Lean on a support group of family, friends, former caregivers and participate in a local or online grief support group.
Crossroads last bit of advice is to reinvigorate your physical self by investing in daily exercise that relieves stress, boosts positive emotions and improves your overall life outlook. Get adequate rest and practice daily meditation.
Crossroads Hospice has offered a road plan for life after caregiving that can be a guide. But each person’s journey may be different. Actually, the first major step I took several months after my husband died was to not cancel a planned trip with my twelve year-old granddaughter. We flew to Costa Rica with an intergenerational group and took Spanish lessons, hiked over wobbly suspension bridges, got wet white-water rafting and overcame our fear to zip line on twelve cables down a mountain.
My life had indeed changed, a phrase that reminds me of what the therapist said who led the first grief group I attended. She opened each meeting with, “You have lost someone you loved. Life has changed but it has not ended for you.” Her statement helped start my recovery, as did private sessions with her.
Later I attended Grief Share at the Lutheran Church on Marco Island, a more structured program than the first, with a viewing of a video each session and discussion questions from a workbook. It also was a safe place to talk (or not) and to express emotions. When the fall season gets underway, several Marco Island churches generally host grief group sessions so check them out online or by phoning them.
To meet new people and have fun while doing it, several of my widowed friends took up bridge playing. In addition to those positive goals, bridge helps keep brains active. A headline from a 2009 article from the New York Times reads, “At the Bridge Table, Clues to a Lucid Old Age.” Dr. Claudia Kawas, a neurologist at the University of California, Irvine commented on the decades-long research from a 90 Plus Study. “The evidence gathered from the study suggests that people who spend long stretches of their days, three hours and more, engrossed in some mental activities like cards may be at reduced risk of developing dementia.” Whether its bridge, poker or something else, consider playing a card or board game for your social life and your brain’s health.
To cope with loneliness after caregiving you may want to try dating. My oldest granddaughter and her husband met online and you probably know someone who did as well. I tried two online sites briefly and found it time- consuming and not rewarding. There are also matching services that are costly but may be helpful if looking for a companion or a future mate.
The Naples Senior Center on Castello Drive offers many activities for seniors and on Marco Island seniors meet monthly for a free lunch supplied by local restaurants and for fellowship. The next Marco Island lunch will be Thursday, September 20 at 11 AM at the First Church of Marco, which alternates with the Marco YMCA location. I hope to see you at lunch and afterwards, how about a game of bridge?
Shirley Woolaway has an M. Ed. in counseling and worked in journalism, in business, and as a therapist in Pennsylvania. She has 25 years personal experience with dementia as a caregiver for family members with Alzheimer’s disease, and nine years as the coordinator of an Alzheimer’s Association memory loss/caregiver support group, earlier in Pennsylvania and now on Marco Island. She has been leading a dementia support group for eleven years, three in PA and eight on Marco Island. We believe that Shirley’s insights will prove helpful to many of our readers.
For help on all aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias call the national Alzheimer’s Association confidential, 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 or the local Bonita Springs office at 239-405-7008 for care consults and support group information. Also helpful with local educational programs, workshops, and support groups, is the Naples Alzheimer’s Support Network, 239-262-8388.