Caregivers cannot be caregivers forever. Getting “back on track” is difficult but vital after a loss. “You need to re-find the purpose in life that you had before you put all your efforts into caring for someone else. If you don’t get back on track then you might suffer depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation. The list can get lengthy if you don’t take care of yourself,” explains Shirley Kilsdonk, of the Edmonton Seniors Centre.
“Regaining control, planning and experiencing new things after the loss of a loved one can be confusing,” adds Rachelle Gietz, a former advisor for the Alberta Caregivers Association. “Routines have been broken and unscheduled free time can seem daunting. Most caregivers will experience some fatigue…This is the time to refresh the body and mind with rest, good nutrition, spiritual reflection, the company of likeable people and moderate exercise.” From my own co-caregiving experiences, here are just a few practical recommendations:
1 Take things slowly.
Grieving is a personal process and there is no set time at which you will be ready to move on. Be easy on yourself and do not expect your life to return to a normal state overnight. A loved one’s death is often traumatizing and you may be routinely reminded of their passing and experience flashes of grief. Cope at your own speed and comfort level, and avoid being rushed into “feeling okay” by others who may not completely understand.
2 Re-establish friendships.
If you have been directing much of your time, energy and resources towards a loved one for many months or even years, the chances are good that you have been ignoring your friends. Pick up the phone and call, or send an email or text. Your true friends will understand why you have been distant and provide a sympathetic shoulder.
3 Pursue an old hobby or try a new one.
Much like ignored friendships, hobbies and/or pastimes are often pushed aside by busy caregivers. Returning to once-enjoyed activities can provide an opportunity to focus on something you once enjoyed. Trying new pursuits (cooking or kung fu, anyone?) can also be satisfying.
4 Avoid coffee.
Caffeine can provide an extra jolt of energy to keep you going while you are caregiving, but now is the time to set down
your cup. Shun other crutches (such as alcohol and drugs) as well. Rest. You need it and deserve it.
5 Open new doors.
Caregiving is a powerful teacher. Those involved will learn a great deal about a medical condition, their family’s and their own abilities, and grow. Whether it is expressing increased compassion, remaining calm in stressful situations, multitasking or managing another’s finances, take what you have learned and explore new work, volunteering or educational opportunities where you can put those transferable skills to good use or learn more.
Grieve, but remember that although you are no longer caring for a loved one, you still need to stay strong and care for yourself.