If you follow my shareposts here on HealthCentral, then you may be aware that I lost my mother nearly 4 months ago. I have openly shared with you many of my struggles with caregiving over the years. I want to tell more of my personal story now in the hopes that other caregivers out there might feel less alone or perhaps even learn something from my experiences.
In many ways, it still feels like yesterday to me that my mom passed away. Caregiving was such a huge part of my life for many years, as well as one of the main purposes in my life, that my mother's absence now has left a huge gaping hole in my everday existence.
Of course, any time you lose someone you love, it's hard. But when you are a caregiver and that loved one has depended on you to help get through each day, I think it is doubly hard. Not only am I missing my mother, but I am somewhat at a loss as to how to fill in the gaps left by no longer having caregiving duties.
Caregiving Was Hard But Losing Your Loved One Is Harder
Don't get me wrong -- even though I am a long-time nurse who loved caring for my patients over the years -- I did not love being a full-time caregiver for my mother, at this point in my life. I loved my mother, but having raised two kids to adulthood and taking steps with my new husband in the direction of achieving life-long dreams, being tied down with caregiving was the last thing I had expected to be doing in my 50s.
But my mother had given me a truly spectacular childhood and had become one of my best friends after I became a mother myself. And one of my core beliefs and values is that you take care of your own when they need you. And my mom needed me after she was diagnosed with COPD. So I stepped up and I took the best care of her that I could.
Was I always the perfect caregiver? Of course not. There was sometimes resentment, conflicts in values and lifestyle to work through, and most of all, fatigue. Caregiving is hard work, both physically and emotionally! And don't forget -- although I never stopped loving my mother, the woman I cared for over 4 long years often didn't even seem like the mother I loved so much. She often seemed like a stranger in my mother's body.
So for 4 years, my mom suffered and her breathing got worse and worse, to the point where even the most basic activities of living were a struggle. We sacrificed much to be there for her, culminating in the final week of her life, when we prepared to care for her 24 hours a day in a really intense way, as she went on hospice.
And then, it was all over, in an instant. I kissed my mom after a final check-in, went to bed, and awoke a few short hours later to find that she had passed on. I really do believe it was how she wanted it. She was so ready to be done with all the suffering.
And Now What Do I Do?
But I was left with the sense of undone things, unsaid feelings and unresolved issues. And no way for those things to ever happen. That's something I'm trying to work through. We don't get another chance to relive those last hours or days before a loved one dies. We can only move forward.
That's not always easy to do, however. As I said, I became a caregiver because I loved my mother and she needed me -- and it was the right thing to do. But it wasn't my whole reason for being.
I did, and do, have many other things in my life to occupy my time and my mind. Things like a dear husband who was my partner in caregiving, two wonderful adult daughters I love very much and a brand new grandson, an active, exercise-filled life, an extensive social network, and oh yes, my own online business.
And yet, I still feel this gaping hole. No more mother to champion my dreams, to love me unconditionally, to share my joy with. No one to lavish my nurturing on each day. No caregiving schedule to structure my day.
What I am describing is nothing unique. I am dealing with loss, on many levels, and I am grieving. Most of you reading this have probably been there at some point in your lives. So how do you move forward?
One Step at a Time?
Well, I am no expert in dealing with grief and loss, but here's what I think. I think you just do it one step at a time, one day at a time. And eventually, the pain will lessen and joy will take a bigger place in your (my) life again.
I think you have to give yourself a break and try not to get too caught up in guilt feelings. I know I wasn't the perfect caregiver, but I also know I was a good one and my mom appreciated what I did for her. She may not have told me that very often, but she did tell her sister, who shared it with me. And I know that I did the best I could in a difficult situation. My mom and I loved each other and we did share that often.
Letting go of the past is also important. Our loved ones who have died have truly passed on to another plane. They will live on in our hearts and memories, of course, but we have an obligation to honor them by living our lives today in the best way we can.
When you are no longer a caregiver, you must re-focus on new priorities (or maybe old ones that you let slide during the caregiving times) and put your life on a different track, that can be just as fulfilling and time consuming in its own way.
Grief and loss are a part of living, unfortunately. So, like me, if you're dealing with these things, then just soldier on the best you can. Seek out support where you can too, from your loved ones, your social circle, or even from a bereavement group, if you think that might help. Most hospices or local hospitals could direct you to bereavement resources, as needed.
I hope that telling my story will help some of my caregiver readers, at least a little bit. Please feel free to tell your own story, by commenting on this post.
Published On: March 12, 2012