Being a caregiver can be an emotionally traumatic experience, especially if that experience ends with the loss of the loved one in your care (as it so often does). In handling loss, you’re likely to experience the full spectrum of emotion - sometimes within a single day. From grief to gratitude, guilt to relief, loss to love, and everything in between. These emotions are difficult to understand or control, and while you may feel alone in them, you’re not. They’re completely normal. Today we’ll go through some of the emotions you may experience when going through any type of loss.
Types of Loss
There are several types of loss you may experience as a caregiver, and they don’t all stem from death. Here are some examples of things besides death that can occur at any time and may trigger emotions surrounding grief/loss:
Loss of your identity
Loss of who the person was before they needed your help
Loss of your independence
Loss of life as it used to be
Loss of a sense of control
Loss of your family harmony
Loss of the future as you pictured it
Loss of a partner to share chores or responsibilities with
Loss of financial independence or security
Loss of sleep
And so much more.
These feelings of loss can be further complicated by your situation - for example, adjusting to life with a loved one who is physically, but not mentally present. All of these feelings of loss are complicated and valid, as are the emotions that surround them. Next, we’ll explore common emotions you may be feeling.
Emotional Responses to Loss
Experiencing loss will trigger different emotions in everyone. There is no right or wrong way to feel or to grieve, but we’ll now explore some of the more common responses.
Worry or Anxiousness.
Depression or Anxiety.
Anger or Frustration. At your loved one, at their doctors/nurses, at yourself, at other members of your family, etc. - all of it is natural.
Guilt. Either over something that was said/done or something left unsaid/incomplete.
Relief. Providing care for a loved one is a complicated situation, therefore the feeling of relief at the end is normal and natural. Though this emotion can feel wrong or trigger feelings of guilt, it’s a completely natural response to the end of a stressful situation.
Confusion. Confusion with how it ended, what to do next, how it all happened, etc.
Yearning. Wishing for days past or longing for the present or future to look different than (or how you expected).
Questioning. Questioning things like your faith (if applicable), yourself, your mortality and the meaning of life, the purpose of disease/death, etc.
And so many more.
How to Handle Emotions
Experiencing loss, as we’ve discussed, triggers a wide range of emotions - some of them easier to handle than others. It can be difficult in a time of grief or loss to take care of yourself, but here are some ideas for how to treat yourself with kindness through this period.
Give yourself time. There is no timetable for grief. We often begin to question ourselves when we feel our grief is lasting “too long,” but the reality is that everyone will experience grief differently. It takes time to heal so be patient with yourself.
Journal. Taking the time to write down your thoughts and struggles can be a therapeutic exercise. You can combine the venting journal with a gratitude practice (writing down things you’re grateful for) to help bring yourself to a feeling of peace.
Seek counseling. Finding a therapist you trust is a healthy way to work through emotions - they are licensed to help you unwind some of the messy tangles of emotions you’re feeling in a space that is non-judgmental and confidential.
Talk about it. Sharing how you’re feeling with trusted family or friends is often much better than keeping it to yourself or trying to heal alone.
This is a complicated topic and we’ve only scratched the surface, but we hope you’ve found comfort in the fact that no matter how you feel, you’re never alone.
For further reading and resources, we invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.