When Caregiving Ends

It’s normal to feel a mix of emotions after the death of someone who’s been in your care, including sadness at their loss and relief that their pain is now over. In fact, there are five stages of grief that most people experience after someone you love dies:   

  • Denial that your loved one has actually died
  • Anger over the death itself, at yourself as a caregiver for not protecting your loved one or with a higher power for “taking” that person away
  • Bargaining to try and undo the death or lessen the pain
  • Depression over the loss, including isolating yourself from family and friends
  • Acceptance of the death and regaining your life 

Not everyone will experience all five stages, and the order you go through them — and the length of time you stay in any one stage — varies from person to person. If you are stuck in a stage, though, talking with a mental health professional or joining a grief support group may help you in your healing. 

Redefining yourself

For months, or even years, a large part of your life has been spent caring for someone you love. Now that they’re gone, it’s time for you to rediscover who you are and identify new goals for yourself. Some hurdles you may face include:   

Time – Every moment used to be scheduled, and free time was rare. Now that your caregiving journey has ended, how will you spend your days? 

Loneliness – Caregiving is demanding work, but once your loved one is gone, you can suddenly feel very lonely. Most caregivers experience isolation, so it’s important to take some time to rebuild friendships. Start slowly by inviting an old friend to lunch or dinner, expanding your circle as you feel comfortable. 

Sense of purpose – Although it is a challenge, caregiving does provide a sense of purpose. Try redirecting that energy into hobbies or activities you once enjoyed or sign up for a class to learn a new skill. Many former caregivers also find great joy in volunteering. 

Self-care – It may feel strange to focus on your own needs and wellbeing after a lengthy period as a caregiver. However, it’s important you take care of yourself. Start with the basics – exercise, maintain a healthy diet and get a good night’s sleep. Then, dive into your own bucket list, the activities you dreamed about while caregiving but didn’t have time or energy to try, such as traveling, exploring new relationships, or reestablishing old ones. 

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Remember that this is a transition period, and what worked yesterday may not work today. Take your time as you create your new normal.