The Aftermath of Caregiving

Mixed Emotions

Life after caregiving can be full of surprises.  What I mean is, our reactions and feelings can be so different from what we may have expected.  In the 2nd Edition of What to Do about Mama? I added a new chapter that spoke directly to the matter of life after caregiving. 

The Caregiver Space article, December 7, 2020, “Moving Forward After Caregiving Ends” by Harriet Hodgson, focuses on the same topic. 

For over 23 years, Harriet cared for three generations of family members in one form or another.  Saying caregiving was “woven into every thread” of her life, she explains why she, as a health and wellness author, changed the focus of her writing to books for family caregivers. 

Harriet also explains that she writes to learn and figure things out.  In her article she compiles a list showing her thought process after her beloved husband died, November 2020.  See:  Moving Forward After Caregiving Ends | The Caregiver Space

After completing her exercise, Harriet sums it up like this: “When caregiving ends, we need to give ourselves time to get our bearings. We need to give ourselves time to recover from shock. We need to give ourselves time to identify our feelings. We need to give ourselves time to plan a new life. We need to give ourselves time for renewal. Most importantly, we need to believe in ourselves.  Love will guide us and lead the way.”

Because I have often noted that when caregiving responsibilities end there is a common reaction of, “What now?” So, in preparation for writing a new chapter for the 2nd Edition of What to Do about Mama? I asked the following question of post-caregivers: “When your caregiving ended, what was your initial reaction; and what did you do to move on?”  Here are some of the responses: 

I found myself with a void to fill—a process that just started to evolve naturally. I began to look for things to do, and now I look back and am amazed that I was able to spend so much time with my dad. Amelia p. 276

Initially, after my mother passed away and my caregiving ended, I felt an overwhelming amount of emotion and logistics to sort through. Once that was settled, though, it was just one day at a time, going through the motions until eventually the motions didn’t feel like such an effort anymore.  It is fortunate, I suppose, that as a parent of young children, there is not much choice about moving on.  Jenna p. 280

When my mother passed away, I felt lost. It was like losing a child. I felt unneeded—like I had lost a lot of my importance and purpose in life. Caregiving took up a large percent of my day, and suddenly having so much time on my hands was a difficult adjustment for me. Ellen p. 282

Due to therapy, I started writing on a daily basis, which is a major help. I am happy to have had productions of my work all over the world. My most recent work is about, you guessed it, caregiving! Jeanette p. 285

Surprisingly, I have moved on with great peace. I know that I did my best, given the circumstances. June p. 286

At first, I was relieved her suffering was over, and I had a lot less stress. That was short lived, though, as I quickly missed the intimacy of caring for her. I missed her terribly. I started a support group for brain cancer patients and caregivers. I named it after and dedicated it to my wife. Curt p. 287

When she passed, I felt guilt that maybe I hadn’t done enough; that I hadn’t given her enough hugs and reassurances; that I could have helped her more. Though I was relieved on one level, I had a lot more haunting thoughts going through my head over her death. Judene p. 288

Post-caregiving, I found the best help in hospice counseling. After Dad passed away, my husband and I had to recreate a social life. It’s certainly an adjustment to have so much free time.  It’s a version of empty nest syndrome, but this time with the added ingredient of grief. My advice? Get out and enjoy your new-found freedom. Marianne p. 290

My faith, great friends, and excellent hospice counselors brought me out after almost ten years of intense caregiving, with my mind and spirit intact. I have begun Life: Part II, with great thankfulness for God’s sustaining grace, past, present, and future. I fill my time now with friends, my children and grandchildren, volunteer work, and helping other people. I feel well-adjusted, whole, and happy. (So, there is life after caregiving, if you can survive it.) Katrina p. 290

When my caregiving ended, I sadly felt a sense of relief—despite the fact that I know I am now all alone. I like to think that now (in the afterlife) my mother or maybe my father or someone, just feels that this is Joanna’s time for Joanna. Who knows? I’m not questioning the how or the why. I’m just enjoying the journey! Joanna 292 & 294

What to Do about Mama? pp. 276-294