When caregiving ends: Re-entry

If caring for your loved one was the main focus of your day, after his or her passing, expect a feeling of emptiness to dominate your awareness. In caregiving, you may have given up many personal activities, friendships, and possibly even a career, to accommodate your relative’s needs. This is especially true if he or she lived with you or had Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or some other long-term condition.

Take care of your health
Get a physical! Like many family caregivers, you probably ignored your own health needs—symptoms, doctor visits—because your loved one’s seemed more pressing. This pattern is so common that many caregivers suddenly come down with something serious post-caregiving! Also take care by eating well, exercising, and getting sleep.

Who am I?
Because your focus was on your ailing loved one, you may have a sense of having forgotten who you are. This is especially true if the person who died was your spouse. Be curious: What appeals to you? Rediscover your personal balance and preferences.

Reengage slowly
Start with the inner circle of your family. You may have fences to mend if those relationships were put on hold. Reach out to siblings, your spouse, your children to rebuild your connection. Then begin to engage with friends, optimally those who have experience with loss. If you were working, returning to the normalcy of your career may feel comforting.

Avoid big decisions
Grief counselors recommend NOT making big moves or lifestyle changes for the first year. Volunteering may be a great way to reconnect with the world and regain a sense of life purpose. You might draw upon your caregiving skills—give yourself a year before doing that—or do something entirely different. Keep commitments light. Take time to realize the desires and the bandwidth of the “new” same-but-deeper you.