Everything comes to an end, good and bad. When
living the daily grind as a caregiver, there are
both moments. When the season of caregiving ends,
many caregivers are found searching for something to
fill their time and their hearts.
Whether a full- or part-time caregiver, there is
a sense of loss when a loved one passes. For a lot
of caregivers, it is a double loss, of a person and
The “mental work”
The most pressing thing on a caregiver’s mind at
the end of caregiving is the overwhelming feeling of
There’s a lot of “business” to take care of,
which will be discussed later, but first it’s
important that caregivers give themselves the time
and space they need to grieve and process the new
phase of life they are entering.
One of the ways to do that is by reconnecting
with family and friends whose relationships may have
been in limbo during the caregiving period. Many
times, this is accomplished naturally through
funeral services, family coming into town to help,
etc. Experts say that participating in these rituals
is beneficial and a way to have a sense of peace and
closure at this time of a caregiver’s life, whether
they are 90 or 19.
A caregiver actually may feel a sense of relief
and the ability to “breathe” again, especially if it
was a drawn-out caregiving role which has ended.
Eventually, those feelings will lead to growth and a
new independence; but at first, they may leave a
person feeling empty and guilty. This is normal and
will change as time passes.
It’s important a caregiver find new meaning or
connections with things they once enjoyed, such as
hobbies, sports or other recreational activities.
They also should set realistic goals. Many
caregivers try to conform to society’s expectations
that after a few months, life will return to
“normal.” For a person who was an active caregiver,
their normal was not the same as others. Small steps
will help carry a caregiver through the grieving
process and also give way to a set of new priorities
One of those days
A caregiver tends to put their own health on the
backburner while serving in that busy role. If so,
after a loss is a good time to get back on track by
having a physical, joining an exercise group, or
taking a relaxing vacation. After a loss, a
caregiver may become irritable, have trouble
sleeping or act very restless.
Strong memories associated with a loved one who
is now gone, such as birthdays, anniversaries or
holidays, can trigger these frustrating symptoms.
Memories are tricky in that they offer caregivers a
time to reflect, but also evoke sadness when looking
back on what could have been. Missed opportunities
are hard for caregivers to get past, but it helps to
focus on the positive memories, the experiences and
fun times shared with a loved one.
Some traditions may change with the absence of a
loved one, while others may stay the same and be
comforting memories. It all depends on family
dynamics, as well as what memories are strongest and
most important to each person.
That said, all caregivers are going to have
“those days,” the ones that just don’t go by fast or
easily. Support groups are a great resource for
those dealing with loss, as is simply arranging a
dinner with friends who will listen and be of
Some caregivers like to journal, make scrapbooks,
or take up a cause their loved one found important.
Whatever it is, a caregiver will benefit by finding
something meaningful and enjoyable to them. Some
even continue with caregiving for another family
member, or professionally.
There is a lot of paperwork after the caregiving
period ends. In addition to funeral arrangements,
thank you cards to family and friends, there is a
lot of personal paperwork involving a loved one’s
wills, assets, insurance, bills, etc. to deal with.
First and foremost, if a loved one was living
independently, it’s important to make sure their
home is safe from vandalism—especially if they lived
alone and it is now public knowledge they are
deceased. A caregiver should remove all valuables
from the home, making a list of what was removed and
where the item is currently. Lock all doors and
windows, as well as change the locks or collect all
copies of the house keys.
Hopefully, an attorney had been brought into the
picture before the death and all the pertinent
financial and legal information is in one place. A
common misconception is that Social Security is
automatically notified upon a person’s passing away.
Another misconception is that benefits issued after
the death can be collected by family members until
the account is formally closed.
Social Security will eventually find out a loved
one is gone, but it could take weeks or months
before it’s reflected in their records. The office
will also then know whether the family has been
collecting benefits wrongfully. For this reason, a
caregiver should be proactive and notify the office
immediately, and don’t forget to have copies of the
death certificate as well as proof that the
caregiver can discuss a loved one’s estate.
Experts also note that after the death of a loved
one, it’s important to review the final Medicare
Summary Notice (MSN). This is to ensure that
all medical procedures billed to Medicare were done
prior to the person’s death. Caregivers have
sometimes found that Medicare was billed for a while
after a person’s death and it has gone unnoticed.
Caregiving is a rewarding experience, and when it
ends, it may take a caregiver a while to see all
those rewards. That’s okay, and to be expected.
Grief is a part of life, as is any other emotion.
Amidst the paperwork and days that drag on, a
caregiver can remember that they gave their loved
one a quality of life they deserved, and their loved
one gave a caregiver the purpose they needed.
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