Now What?

2011 January 25

For every minute, of every hour, of every day, for what sometimes seems like a week and sometimes feels like years, you have cared for your loved one. And now, your loved one has died.  No one warned you of what life would look like with so much care left to give and no one to give it to.

After my mother died, after months of care, a colleague from work told me that my mother’s death was “a good thing because now,” she said, “you can do the things that you really want to do.”

What so few people understand (even well wishing friends who say things they don’t mean) is that we weren’t just caring for someone we loved. Caring wasn’t just something we did—it became part of us.

  • Care structured our day
  • Care gave us incredible purpose throughout the day, getting us up well before dawn and keeping us going late into the night
  • Care reminded us that we were needed and important
  • Care helped us endure exhaustion, and aloneness, and isolation, and uncertainty, and feelings of helplessness
  • Care helped us know what was really important—and allowed us to let go of everything that wasn’t

Now, not only are you grieving over the loss of your loved one, you are also grieving over the loss of your caregiving identity. When you were in the midst of care, life seemed to be in focus. Everything else could wait because the most pressing and immediate needs of your loved was all that mattered.

Now, whom do you care for? What do you do with your care? For the first time in months, or even years, others are forcing you to think about life in ways that take your mind into the future—a place you dared not venture when you were caring for your loved one. Now, people are asking “What’s next?” and “What are you going to do now?” and for the first time in a long time, others want answers to questions about work, and relationships, and television shows, and vacations, and the latest political election, and your take on the latest neighborhood dispute.

Something to remember when the dizzying pace of life finds you: caring is not something you did—it was who you became. It’s not something you stopped “giving” the moment your loved one died.  If you find yourself privately missing the clarity of your caregiving role, don’t feel guilty. You are not a bad person.  Give yourself permission for missing what now feels like a simpler time. It’s okay to be temporarily lost. Be kind to yourself–you are trying to find your way again in a world that doesn’t understand who you have become.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011

    I took care of my mom for four and a half years.I had to do everything for her,my mompassed away 2 weeks ago and i am having a real hard time thanks

  2. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Our thoughts are with you. Give yourself time to adjust. Remember, care doesn’t end with the death of a loved one. Sincerely, The Unprepared Caregiver.

  3. Sharon permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Dear Dr. White,
    It’s been almost 6 years since my Beloved Husband passed away. Your posting for today is still very timely and true in my life. I always knew who and what I was, then. These days, though I’m still doing caregiving work @ a retirement facility as I was then, I fully understand my employment role, as far as what they ‘let’ me do and/or contribute to in the care of my client, but I still have no clear cut role in my personal life. Plus I am on the brink of retirement. Deep care(ing), without accessible practice is now almost overwhelming my life. Any way, thank you good sir for your wisdom in words.
    May God bless you in your work.

  4. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    February 9, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your incredible story of caregiving and love. I hope you find the website useful. I believe many of the articles on the site speak to your situation. Our thoughts go out to you.

  5. Kristen permalink
    April 2, 2011

    I’d also like to add that these same feelings can come up when the person one is caring for gets well, or enters remission, and the period of intense caregiving is lessened. I found this post, and your site in general, very comforting and validating of what often feels like a very solitary endeavor. Thank you.

  6. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    April 3, 2011

    Thanks for the comment Kristen. I hope the site is of comfort and value.

  7. Robin permalink
    April 15, 2011

    I am so glad I found this site. I lost my Mom 4 weeks ago and feel completely lost. I had taken care of her for 8 yrs(4 yrs with me , 4 in nursing home) and put not only my life, but my husband’s life on hold. She was my #1 priority every day. I thought when I placed her in nursing home, it would not be as stressful, but not true. I had to visit every day to be sure of all her needs were met and to be with her. I felt so alone and took myself out of a normal life. You are so right, her needs were what mattered and nothing else. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    April 16, 2011

    So glad you found us. Thank you for your comments. Our thoughts are with you.

  9. September 18, 2012

    Almost 20 years ago, I lost my first wife to colon cancer. I wish I’d known then what I’ve lneeard from Kay Marshall Strom’s excellent Caregiver’s Survival book. Like many people suddenly caught up in the role of caregiver, I was unprepared mentally, physically, and emotionally for the role. I did my best then, but it was far short of what I could have done for her, for the children, and for myself had I only known. My hope now is that this book will find its way to where it’s needed: to those facing the prospect of providing the primary care for a loved one in failing health, so that this extremely painful journey can be made more tolerable by Ms. Strom’s tender, Christian insights and advice. She connects to the reader by laying bare her own doubts and hardships in more than 7 years of caring for her terminally ill husband. Her book is filled with the dignity, respect, and hope that, through God’s inspiration, can be developed in even the most hopeless of cases.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS