Is there life after caregiving? Definitely.
What does it look like? That is up to you. Often, former caregivers feel like they do not know what to do with themselves or that they have too much time on their hands.
No two people have the same caregiving experience, so life after caregiving will be unique, too.
You are likely to experience a range of emotions: initial numbness, sadness for your loss, relief that the suffering has ended, loneliness, and fear of what lies ahead. It is best to feel each emotion as it comes; they will ebb and flow.
Grief is a natural, individual, multifaceted process. Do not ignore it. Marcel Proust said it best: “We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”
There is no set time period for grief. Grief has mental, emotional and physical aspects, and it can change over time. You stretched your physical and emotional limits as a caregiver. When you’ve been with someone every day, providing care in the most intimate ways, letting go is not just hard; it might seem impossible. Allow yourself the space to grieve.
It is not unusual to feel lost after the death of someone you provided care for. Your relationships with other family members might be different, and the abrupt end to your daily routine can be disruptive. If caregiving was your identity and your mission, life changes dramatically when you are no longer a caregiver. It takes time to rebuild and find your new identity. For this reason, it is important to pursue your interests, cultivate friendships, and take plenty of “me time” while you are a caregiver. These activities and this self-awareness will help you find your place in the world.
As a caregiver for someone with Parkinson’s, it is likely that you have already experienced and overcome grief with each successive loss you and your loved one encountered: loss of mobility, loss of independence, loss of his or her “former self.” Use strategies you learned with these losses to cope with your situation now. You can also try these:
- Be productive. Many people use creative outlets to help them cope.
- Plan ahead for grief triggers. The death anniversary, your loved one’s birthday, or holidays you spent together will be difficult for you, so prepare yourself for the inevitable emotions. Be aware of grief “gremlins”: unanticipated grief triggers and reactions.
- Join a bereavement support group. The same support networks you relied on to support your role as caregiver can offer much-needed support to help you cope now. Contact the toll-free Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline for a referral to a group near you: 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Recognize the difference between grief and depression. If you are unsure if what you are feeling is normal, consult a mental health professional.
- Remember the positive. Once you have taken some time to heal, think about all the fun, happy moments you shared with your loved one.