The aftermath of care giving can be very different from one caregiver to another. It is an emotional roller-coaster ride that continues on even after the care giving journey ends. Some may experience an overwhelming sense of peace while others my feel extreme fatigue, guilt, grief, resentment and identity. A caregiver’s journey is determined by the circumstances of care and the individual’s emotional temperament. It is also determined by the nature of the relationship with the person they are looking after; the demands on the caregiver; and the resources available among many other factors.
Is there life after care giving and what does it look like?
There is no single answer to this question but it is important to be aware that there will be an altered sense of identity and it may last a while. There is no way to go through the care giving experience without coming out on the other side a different person because assuming the role of caregiver takes a lot of love, sacrifice and support.
Guilt is often tied with the relief that is felt after the loved one moves on. Relief or the sense of release is part of the natural process, especially if the job was physically and emotionally demanding. It is important to try to identify any of the feeling and emotions that are experienced so that steps can be taken towards moving forward. Determining whether support or assistance with those feelings and emotions is next. Sometimes just knowing that what you are experiencing is normal is all the assistance that it takes.
For some the need to keep giving back and having a purpose can be the new challenge. Volunteer work can give you that sense of purpose back and can connect you with others of like mind. Volunteering is another great way to keep connected to the organizations and people that helped you and your loved ones, just don’t take on too much and burn yourself out.
Many caregivers forget to take care of themselves while devoting all of their efforts to maintaining a loved one’s health. Making self care a priority is important as it is part of the healing process both physically and mentally. Resuming your old life can be complicated. You are not only putting your life back together but many times you are also laying your loved ones matters to rest. This can be completely overwhelming. Take a deep breath and do the first thing first. Maybe start with the easiest things and ask for help with some of the more daunting tasks. Look asking for help as another way of self care.
For some caregivers it is time to go back into the regular work force. Remember to present your time as a caregiver as a marketable and productive period, not as lost time. “Care giving is a powerful skill set. It calls for negotiation skills, team development, project management, logistics and learning technical language related to fields of finance, law and medicine.”(via The Caregiver Relief Fund) Maybe your future career has nothing to do with care giving, but your experience can be put to good use.
After the care giving ends is a new beginning with a new reality. Don’t be ashamed to seek help from family, friends, support groups and medical professionals. This experience and need does not make you weak, it is just part of the journey.