Coping with Caregiver Loss
Posted By Maryann On SEPTEMBER 26,2017
At Caring Choices, we see family members grieving the loss of their loved ones even before their relative has died. This "anticipatory grief" is very common, but it is not often discussed.
A loss for everyone
It's natural to spend time thinking about the future and mourning what you know is going to come. The person you are caring for is also doing the same, but from a different point of view.
The importance of leaving a legacy
One way to address this "future loss" is to talk with your relative about his or her legacy. They may not use the word "legacy," but the concept has probably been on their mind for a while.
Older adults, especially those in frail health, often wonder about the meaning of their lives. It's natural to think about what one has contributed and what will live on after we are gone. This is more than material possessions or accomplishments. This type of legacy reflection revolves around personal qualities, cherished memories, and lessons to impart.
Assisting your loved one with legacy-making activities is one way to help the person you care for with an important issue in their elder journey, while also helping you cope with feelings of anticipatory loss. Here are some ideas:
One option is to create a memoir, starting at the beginning and moving chronologically forward. There are online services that will let you upload photos and publish a small book, even. One disadvantage is that people who write memoirs often get bogged down in detail. Or they hit a rough spot in their life and it’s hard to push past it. Memoirs can be fascinating and healing. But they can also become an overwhelming project.
A life review
A life review is a much shorter project. Ask your loved one to think about the top five crossroads or challenges in his or her life.
What were the forces at play at that time (War? Recession? The 60s?)?
What did your loved one learn from the decisions he or she made?
What is he or she proud of?
What has your relative thought about in terms of roads not taken? What would have happened if….?
Any insights to share?
An ethical will
Instead of writing a memoir or life review or bequeathing belongings, an ethical will in some way combines the three. Have your loved one identify qualities or life lessons he or she would like to "give" to future generations. Recording this on paper, or as a podcast or video, is a great way for the person you care for to share the wisdom they have gained over the years. Working on this project together will also help you come to terms with your loved one's eventual departure.
Other caregiving losses
Anticipatory loss is just one of several losses family caregivers face. Learn more about caregiver loss in our monthly newsletter.
Want some help?
As the north New Jersey experts in family caregiving, we understand the many issues you are facing. Give us a call if you would like help or guidance caring for an aging loved one: 973-627-4087.