Compassion for the Caregiver
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
BY: Mary Murphy, M.Ed., LPC
PUBLICATION: About Grief
As a Bereavement Coordinator, I am honored to work with amazing caregivers. They tell their stories of diagnoses, treatment, and eventual death of their loved (and sometimes not-so-loved) ones. Because they have been so focused on caring for others, sometimes for decades, it is no wonder that in grief, they may have a difficult time identifying how they feel and what they need.
Long-term caregivers are often numb, exhausted, emotionally and physically drained, and confused by mixed emotions. These reactions are influenced by many factors: the relationship between caregiver and loved one; the length of time spent caregiving, support received, balancing care with employment and other family life, financial stressors, demands of the illness, limitations of the caregiver, and the ability of the caregiver to practice self-care.
We like to think that caring for someone we love will be easy. Under the best of circumstances, it is challenging. Constant attention to another person's current and future needs causes many caregivers to nearly abandon themselves in the process. In my work, I try to help the bereaved caregiver first recognize and honor the beautiful gift they have given another person: being the person entrusted to end-of-life care. Many caregivers brush this aside saying, "Well, who else would do it if I didn't?" This always surprises me because many people cannot take on that responsibility. Even more surprising is the number of caregivers who have had complicated relationships and yet are able to heroically and "perfectly imperfectly" walk the path with their family member.
As the bereaved tell their stories and are given the space to talk about the many facets of caregiving, there are tears. There is anger. There is fear. There is wonderment about what they will do with their lives now. They are encouraged to talk, write, read, and begin to have awareness of their own needs. Breathing techniques, guided imagery, and meditation to quiet the mind are offered and they are encouraged to take walks in nature or attend one of the many support groups we provide.
At Hospice of the Western Reserve, our bereavement team supports caregivers and honors their deep work. We are privileged to be of service.