How Caregivers Can Overcome Loss

April 30, 2012
Nothing can truly prepare someone for the loss of a loved one. Loss can be especially hard on a caregiver, who invested so much time and energy into caring for that loved one. Caregivers can suffer a great amount of grief and even slip into depression despite having to possibly take care of a loved one’s estate or help with his or her family. Care for the caregiver is important all along their journey of caring for a loved one but especially once the loved one has passed. Some caregivers at first feel numb and disoriented, then yearn for the person who died. Others feel anxious and have trouble sleeping, possibly dwelling on old disagreements and wishing they could have said more before the passing. Caregivers may have sudden crying outbursts when remembering their loved one. A loved one’s death can even compound problems for a caregiver who experienced caregiver burnout, which is the progression of stresses, physical, emotional, financial, psychological and social, to the point where he or she feels “burned out.” Dealing with grief is essential in order to come to terms with the loss of a loved one and move forward. While each caregiver deals with loss in his or her own way, there is help on the horizon. recently featured a 2-part series that examined 12 insights into grieving from Therese A. Rando, Ph.D. and provided the following suggestions: Your grief is as personal and unique as your fingerprint; no one else will have the same bereavement experience as you and there is not one “correct” way to respond to loss. Suggestion: Do not let anyone tell you how you need to grieve or mourn. You are dealing with more than one loss when your loved one dies. Suggestion: Work to revise your perspective because elements of it are no longer valid or have been shattered because of your loved one’s death. The depth and breadth of your acute grief reactions to the loss of your loved ones should not be underestimated. Suggestion: Remembering that this is a process and not a state you will stay stuck in, give yourself permission to express your reactions in ways that work for you. Grief does not solely affect your emotions and does not mean that you will only be sad. Suggestion: Expect that you will be affected in all, or many, areas of your life. Your acute grief entails your having to gradually learn the reality of your loved one’s loss, and to appreciate that you cannot grasp that fact or its implications without sufficient time and experiences to “teach” you. Suggestion: Expect that it will take you many months or even years before you can truly and permanently grasp that your loved one is gone. Grief is not the same as mourning, and you need to do more to cope with your loved one’s death than just express your feelings. Suggestion: Express your grief reactions, but recognize there is more work to do. The circumstances of your loved one’s death will have a profound influence on you. Suggestion: If your loved one died from an illness, develop an accurate appreciation of how illness can affect those left behind, and look for ways to rejoin the world if you had spent much of your time caretaking. Your grief reactions will not proceed in a fixed sequence, will not necessarily decline consistently over time or be over in a year and will not fail to come up again once they subside. Suggestion: Give yourself permission to have your reactions unfold without automatically thinking you are backtracking if you feel worse after feeling better. It is a myth that healthy mourning means totally “letting go” of your lost loved one. Suggestion: Discover ways that are healthy and personally meaningful to you in which you can maintain appropriate connections with your loved one, recognizing that others may think this is unhealthy. Others will not necessarily understand what you are going through or know how to reach out and support you. Suggestion: Ask for what you need from others. Because children do not respond exactly like adults does not mean they don’t need to be given information about the death, or to be included in the family’s activities and discussions around it. Suggestion: Operate with the knowledge that children do grieve and mourn, and that you need to find the most effective ways to support them. Many mourners have the wrong notion about what “recovery” means. Suggestion: Look for specific ways in which you can transcend this event. In other words, work to make something good happen out of it. For more caregiver resources and helpful content, visit