Conversations in Grief Blog: Now What? The Unique Challenges of Caregiver Grief

Rainbow Community Care Team
February 27, 2024 / 5 mins read

Now What? The Unique Challenges of Caregiver Grief

by Laura Wessels

You didn’t sign up to be a caregiver. You probably didn’t even get any training to be a caregiver. But caregiver you were, and not to just anyone, but someone you love. Caregiving required all of you. To prepare meals, provide personal cares, administer medications, and advocate for them.

Without even noticing, your relationship with your loved one shifted from mutual love and companionship to caregiving a patient who is a shadow of the person they once were.

You were surviving from one day to the next, like running a marathon rather than a sprint. You couldn’t see the finish line at the start. You had your head down, found a pace, and ran. The marathon ended when your loved one died. A finish line that was full of sorrow rather than triumph.

You are grieving. Your grief is impacted by your role as a caregiver. Your purpose died with your person.

You may be experiencing some of the following:

1) Sleeplessness; you’d always been on high alert listening for any needs or the call of your loved one in the middle of the night.

2) Grappling with images of your loved one sick and maybe no longer recognizing you.

3) You wonder why you weren’t prepared for your person’s death.

4) Overwhelming feelings of regret and guilt. You remember your failures, when you yelled back at them, when you rushed through your cares, or when you took a bit longer to answer their call.

5) You have been emptied of purpose and depleted of energy, with too much time on your hands.


So now what?

1) A friend who had just completed her first marathon said she was going to eat, soak, and sleep. In short, to pay attention to what her body needs and claim space for her own healing. You have been going at high speed for a long time. Claim and embrace this time-out for your healing.

2) Schedule a wellness appointment with your physician. You may have put your own health concerns on hold while caring for your loved one.

3) Lean into the painful images of your loved one. Share with those who will listen what it was like to care for your person. When you talk about the haunting images, they do fade. In their place, images of your person healthy and loving will sharpen and hold center stage.

4) Are you surprised you weren’t more prepared? That means you did your job well. You were present to your loved one as they continued to live. Your person was still here, and you communicated your love with word and touch.

5) If you are experiencing regret for how you failed in your caregiving role, write a letter to your loved one asking their forgiveness. Then turn the letter over and write how they would respond. Or make a list of the ways you failed. Then make a list of the ways you succeeded.

6) As you face the (un-welcome) time on your hands:

  • Revisit hobbies and interests you used to enjoy.
  • Explore new ones that your loved one enjoyed as a way of remaining connected to them. Pull out their puzzles and piece them together.
  • Seek social outlets by volunteering in your community, returning to church, visiting your senior center, joining a grief support group, or reaching out to your friends. None of the people you encounter replace your loved one, but perhaps one or two of them will understand and support you as you adjust to your new life.

A final word-thank you for how you faithfully cared for your loved one. You truly honored them with your care.