Caregiving is a labor of love, especially if you are a family caregiver. You make no money, but you work hard to keep your loved one safe and healthy. Inevitably, however, there is a sad ending to caregiving for the elderly–they pass away. Death is a reality of caregiving, and professionals have their own ways of dealing with it. For those who give care non-professionally, though, the passing of an elder is much more personal.
Where do you go when caregiving ends? How do you begin to move on and get back to a life without family caregiving?
Mental and Emotional Health
There are many logistical items to be discussed, but it is important first to evaluate and plan for your mental and emotional health. Death is traumatic regardless, but the death of a loved one for whom you provided care (countless intimate moments shared, hours on end as a companion, many if not all aspects of your day planned around another person, et cetera) may be particularly rattling.
Take stock of your emotional state. Acknowledging your emotions, no matter what they are, is vital to dealing with them and coping with loss. There is no use in “being strong” and hiding emotions or masking them. In the immediate moment, allow yourself to recognize and feel your reaction to your loved one’s passing. We are biologically wired to mourn, and ignoring that will cause more harm than good.
Watch for warning signs of depression, but do not be alarmed if you see them. Periods of sadness, fatigue, and even anger are normal, and a short-term depression after death happens to many people. Taking a few days to rest, reflect, and breathe is advisory. If you can, see if you can take some time off of work to deal with your loss. Feelings of overwhelming grief or sadness are to be expected in the short-term, and it is okay if they impede your ability to work or enjoy social activities for a time. If they extend for more than two months, however, or if you experience suicidal or violent thoughts, you need to seek professional care immediately.
Seek out others who can share your experience, especially family members. Sharing grief can seem, at first, like a burden, but it actually helps to share your feelings and reactions with others. Other family members can share good memories, cry with you, and will be connected to you regardless of distance. Access family and friends whenever possible. Seeking out grief counseling is another option. Most communities have grief groups that meet and discuss loss; use the Internet to find your local support group and make a visit a priority.
Plan on change. You have spent some time–it could be weeks, months, or years–caring for another, but now that person no longer needs your care. Be prepared for your life to change. More free time, new priorities, and more opportunities will present themselves.
It is best to prepare for these emotional eventualities while caregiving, if possible. Know where the resources are before the worst happens; prepare those closest to you to care for your emotional state, too. Once you have your emotional and mental health priorities in check, you can take care of the logistical tasks necessary after the passing of a loved one.
An empty house must be secured…
Consumer Reports has a checklist of tasks to complete, which addresses the logistical tasks necessary after the death of a loved one. These include: getting a legal “pronouncement of death” by a doctor; arranging for the person’s stipulated final arrangements, including transportation of the body to a funeral home or elsewhere; notifying family, friends, employers, doctors, banks, lawyers, and/or trustees, and Social Security. An empty house must be secured, as must any pets or children involved. Paperwork is going to be plentiful; start, if you haven’t already, organizing Medicare and legal documents. The funeral home or crematory will provide a death certificate; make sure you make plenty of copies and never give away the original.
There is no single process to dealing with grief and loss. Trust your instincts to adapt these suggestions to your particular situation, but always know that there are resources and communities out there to help you through this difficult time.
Berezin, Robert. (January 20, 2014). Grief from a Death of a Loved One Is Part of Life. Psychology Today. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-theater-the-brain/201401/grief-death-loved-one-is-part-life. Retrieved 2/2/2016.
Bradley, Jennifer. Saying Goodbye to Caregiving. Caregiver.com. Available at http://caregiver.com/articles/general/saying_goodbye_to_caregiving.htm. Retrieved 2/2/2016.
Consumer Reports. (October 2012). What to do when a loved one dies. Consumer Reports Magazine. Available at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/10/what-to-do-when-a-loved-one-dies/index.htm. Retrieved 2/2/2016.