Handling Caregiver Grief

2 Person Holding Hands, Symbolizing Caregiver Grief

When a loved one assumes a family caregiver role, family dynamics will shift. Lifestyle changes are to be expected. Feelings of frustration are common. What most people don’t anticipate is experiencing grief during the caregiving process. While unexpected for many, caregiver grief is an incredibly common experience. Here’s how to handle the grieving process while caring for someone else.

What is Caregiver Grief?

Caregiving means major life changes for all family members involved (especially the care provider and the care receiver). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, caregiving demands can negatively affecting someone’s physical and mental health.

Navigating these mental health changes can be especially challenging. Caregiving can bring a host of complicated, sometimes conflicting, emotions to the surface. These can leave people overwhelmed and unsure of how to navigate the nuances of their new daily lives. Often, caregivers experience the following sensations when providing unpaid long-term care to a loved one:

  • Feelings of resentment and anger. Caregiving is no joke. It's a serious commitment, taking up time, money, mental alertness, and other resources that most people take for granted daily. The loss of freedom and income can justifiably stoke feelings of resentment and anger.
  • Feelings of guilt over feeling resentful and angry at the care recipient. For caregivers, anger is oftentimes accompanied by guilt. The care providers feel guilty that they resent their family members for changing family dynamics. They know that their loved ones cannot help their current situation.
  • Sense of loss. Many caregivers report feeling a sense of ambiguous loss while caregiving. It could be the loss of the relationship they once had with the care recipient. It could be the loss of freedom. Caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may feel some loss watching their loved one change.
  • Anticipatory grief. Knowing that the loss of a loved one is coming but hasn't happened yet is a special sort of torture. It comes with feelings of powerlessness, sadness, frustration, anxiety, and much more. To further compound the issue, anticipating the loss itself can taint the remaining time people have with their loved ones.
  • Grief after loss. Eventually, care recipients will pass on, and caregivers must process their complicated grief while adjusting to a new family dynamic. While many believe that the grieving process is linear, nothing could be further from the truth. Grieving is complicated and people can move forwards and backwards through the many stages of grief for a long time.

How to Manage Caregiver Grief

Caregivers need to remember to give some care to themselves too, or what can be a difficult time in everyone’s lives can become even more difficult. Ways to manage caregiver grief include the following:

  • Caregiver support group - Caregiving can be isolating. That’s why being around others who are going through the caregiving process can be a liberating experience. Using Eldercare Locator, caregivers may be able to find a support group in their area.
  • End-of-life care - Otherwise known as hospice care, hiring end-of-life care is the right move for many families, as it allows family caregivers to step back from their care duties and focus on what matters—maximizing remaining quality time with their loved one.
  • Grief counseling - Grief is complicated and messy, so it should be no surprise that attending grief counseling or joining a grief support group can help people better navigate the grieving process in a healthy manner. Organizations like GriefShare hold regular meetings both online and in person, helping people get the social support they need during this difficult time.
  • Respite care - Respite care is professional short-term residential care. Allowing caregivers to have a break from caregiving duties for even a brief period of time can make a world of difference in terms of improving their mental health.
  • Practicing self-care - Caregivers’ well-being is important too. That’s why, no matter how busy life gets, it’s critical to carve out time for some self-care to maintain a sense of sanity and reduce the odds of physical and mental burnout. Self-care doesn’t have to be extravagant; listening to a favorite album and taking a walk are both valid forms of self-care that can help overwhelmed care providers unwind.

Caregiving is demanding, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact us to learn more about delivering quality care, receiving in-home care services, or seeking respite care for yourself or a loved one at one of our communities.

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