By Jennifer Bradley
Everything comes to an end, good and bad. When living the daily grind as a caregiver, there are both moments. When the season of caregiving ends, many caregivers are found searching for something to fill their time and their hearts.
Whether a full- or part-time caregiver, there is a sense of loss when a loved one passes. For a lot of caregivers, it is a double loss, of a person and a purpose.
The “mental work”
The most pressing thing on a caregiver’s mind at the end of caregiving is the overwhelming feeling of “Now what?”
There’s a lot of “business” to take care of, which will be discussed later, but first it’s important that caregivers give themselves the time and space they need to grieve and process the new phase of life they are entering.
One of the ways to do that is by reconnecting with family and friends whose relationships may have been in limbo during the caregiving period. Many times, this is accomplished naturally through funeral services, family coming into town to help, etc. Experts say that participating in these rituals is beneficial and a way to have a sense of peace and closure at this time of a caregiver’s life, whether they are 90 or 19.
A caregiver actually may feel a sense of relief and the ability to “breathe” again, especially if it was a drawn-out caregiving role which has ended. Eventually, those feelings will lead to growth and a new independence; but at first, they may leave a person feeling empty and guilty. This is normal and will change as time passes.
It’s important a caregiver find new meaning or connections with things they once enjoyed, such as hobbies, sports or other recreational activities.
They also should set realistic goals. Many caregivers try to conform to society’s expectations that after a few months, life will return to “normal.” For a person who was an active caregiver, their normal was not the same as others. Small steps will help carry a caregiver through the grieving process and also give way to a set of new priorities and enjoyments.
One of those days
A caregiver tends to put their own health on the backburner while serving in that busy role. If so, after a loss is a good time to get back on track by having a physical, joining an exercise group, or taking a relaxing vacation. After a loss, a caregiver may become irritable, have trouble sleeping or act very restless.
Strong memories associated with a loved one who is now gone, such as birthdays, anniversaries or holidays, can trigger these frustrating symptoms. Memories are tricky in that they offer caregivers a time to reflect, but also evoke sadness when looking back on what could have been. Missed opportunities are hard for caregivers to get past, but it helps to focus on the positive memories, the experiences and fun times shared with a loved one.
Some traditions may change with the absence of a loved one, while others may stay the same and be comforting memories. It all depends on family dynamics, as well as what memories are strongest and most important to each person.
That said, all caregivers are going to have “those days,” the ones that just don’t go by fast or easily. Support groups are a great resource for those dealing with loss, as is simply arranging a dinner with friends who will listen and be of comfort.
Some caregivers like to journal, make scrapbooks, or take up a cause their loved one found important. Whatever it is, a caregiver will benefit by finding something meaningful and enjoyable to them. Some even continue with caregiving for another family member, or professionally.
There is a lot of paperwork after the caregiving period ends. In addition to funeral arrangements, thank you cards to family and friends, there is a lot of personal paperwork involving a loved one’s wills, assets, insurance, bills, etc. to deal with.
First and foremost, if a loved one was living independently, it’s important to make sure their home is safe from vandalism—especially if they lived alone and it is now public knowledge they are deceased. A caregiver should remove all valuables from the home, making a list of what was removed and where the item is currently. Lock all doors and windows, as well as change the locks or collect all copies of the house keys.
Hopefully, an attorney had been brought into the picture before the death and all the pertinent financial and legal information is in one place. A common misconception is that Social Security is automatically notified upon a person’s passing away. Another misconception is that benefits issued after the death can be collected by family members until the account is formally closed.
Social Security will eventually find out a loved one is gone, but it could take weeks or months before it’s reflected in their records. The office will also then know whether the family has been collecting benefits wrongfully. For this reason, a caregiver should be proactive and notify the office immediately, and don’t forget to have copies of the death certificate as well as proof that the caregiver can discuss a loved one’s estate.
Experts also note that after the death of a loved one, it’s important to review the final Medicare Summary Notice (MSN). This is to ensure that all medical procedures billed to Medicare were done prior to the person’s death. Caregivers have sometimes found that Medicare was billed for a while after a person’s death and it has gone unnoticed.
Caregiving is a rewarding experience, and when it ends, it may take a caregiver a while to see all those rewards. That’s okay, and to be expected. Grief is a part of life, as is any other emotion. Amidst the paperwork and days that drag on, a caregiver can remember that they gave their loved one a quality of life they deserved, and their loved one gave a caregiver the purpose they needed.