Managing Grief and Ambiguous Loss as a Caregiver

Grief is a challenging topic - and most of us don’t like to talk about it, because, well, it’s painful. Unfortunately, grief is a natural human emotion, and as a caregiver, you are stepping into challenging territory where you will experience grief.


Permanent mental and physical changes related to aging can force us to confront our family member’s (care receiver’s) mortality. Enduring the death of someone we deeply care for is one of the most challenging emotional events in many humans’ lifetimes.

So as you transition into the caregiver role and live through the experience of taking responsibility for your loved one’s care through their end of life, you may experience a variety of grief as you mourn the changes in your relationship, the changes in their capacities and the impending certainty of death.

If you are currently struggling with any type of grief, we just want to remind you that you are not alone and that the Caregiver Resource Center OC is here to support you.

Grief Due to Chronic Illness You and your loved one may experience grief adjusting to the new normal dictated by their chronic illness or permanent disability. Due to their health, your loved one is now less independent and has lost control of their own life. At times, you or your loved one will grieve the loss of the person they used to be. Losing their hearing, or their ability to walk, but still being alive is a great challenge for many care receivers and their caregivers. This is a very intense realization, for both the caregiver and the care receiver that can be a process to grieve. The change of relationship dynamic, such as when a parent becomes the care receiver, can be grief-inducing for both caregiver and parent.

Anticipatory Grief As a caregiver, as you assist your loved one in their final days, the knowledge that death is imminent can be a pervasive grieving experience. As you process your feelings about the eventual death of your care receiver, we encourage you to continue to practice self-care while seeking out support in our groups of caregivers who are living through similar circumstances.

Ambiguous Loss Ambiguous Loss is a traumatic loss that occurs without closure or clear understanding. If your loved one struggles with dementia or Alzheimer's you can be faced with their physical presence despite a psychological absence. Your loved one is physically there, but is mentally absent. Due to the ambiguity, this type of loss can complicate a grieving process, and can reduce your ability to comprehend the changes, meaning you can’t make sense of the situation to cope and move forward with your life.

Grief counseling related to ambiguous, ongoing loss is highly recommended. If you are experiencing a prolonged, confusing grief, please connect with a support group.

Grief at Death And, of course, there is the experience of grief at death. Experiencing grief is a natural emotion that makes us human - as a caregiver, it’s up to you to allow the feelings to surface, manage your feelings, and validate what's happening. CRCOC has resources to help you do this, just reach out for our support.