While caring for a loved one in the last season of life, and in the time following their passing, grief is the primary, natural state of being. Grief can affect every aspect of your life and add a layer of difficulty to any conversation or task.
Yet it is during this time that you as a caregiver must often give the most of yourself – managing the daily life of your loved one and later adjusting to life after they are gone. You must also juggle other work and family responsibilities during this already stressful time.
It can be easy to put your own needs last. But doing so isn’t right or necessary, and it doesn’t help your loved one or other family and friends. While your grieving process will be unique and unlike anyone else’s, the most important thing is to allow yourself one. Here are some suggestions to help you give yourself the time and space you need to grieve in your own way:
Rest. A good night’s sleep is essential to your health and ability to function. Make sure your daily schedule allows for plenty of sleep. The effects of a sleep-troubled night can be relieved the next day if there is an opportunity for a good, long nap. If healthy sleep is chronically difficult for you, consult your physician and hospice care team. The right sleep aid or intentional adjustments to your schedule can be of great help.
Eat. Dietary concerns are often a critical part of a loved one’s end of life experience. Make sure that, while you meet their needs, you don’t neglect your own. Include your own favorites whenever the menu allows. And don’t be afraid to occasionally make arrangements for a separate meal that you truly enjoy. Find ways to keep a healthy, savory diet as part of your own routine.
Move. If your lifestyle usually includes exercise, don’t abandon it now. Find ways to work your favorite physical activities into your schedule. If you find that you’re less inclined to such exertion, there are still many benefits to be gained from some sort of exercise. Consider walking or biking with a close friend or family member. Regular exercise will improve your health, ease tension and clear your mind, enabling you to serve your loved one better and giving you energy to tackle each day’s responsibilities.
Consult. Many of the medical issues your loved one faces are complicated and detailed. Medication, dietary concerns and daily physical needs all require close attention. There are also legal and financial concerns to consider, as well as family issues and communication. It is a lot to keep track of! Don’t be afraid to request assistance in understanding important details from people who know the answers – whether that means professional advisors or trusted friends and family members. Your hospice care team is always available to answer questions – even if you’ve asked those questions before.
Delegate. There are some things only you can do for your loved one. Your presence is a comfort, and your knowledge is invaluable. Your full attention is required on important details. And then there are all the things that others can help you with. Match tasks with people who want to assist you, and let them go to work. Sharing the burden frees you to focus on what you truly need to do and allows you precious time to rest and recharge.
Write. Journaling with pen and paper – working through emotions and recording special memories – can be a great way to process what you may be experiencing. A dedicated notebook for your loved one’s medical and physical needs, and another for financial and legal concerns, can also be essential tools that you refer to often as you make critical decisions. Alternatively, you may want to work with a trusted friend or family member who can document such details for you.
Talk. Trusted friends and family can be a source of invaluable support. Each person grieves differently, but conversations can be a great comfort and a means to work through both logistical and emotional issues. Seek out people who know you well, with whom you can share troubles, frustrations, ideas and concerns. Your hospice care team can also refer you to professional counseling resources that many find helpful during this time.
Rely. You are not alone in this. Don’t hesitate to seek comfort and practical help from friends, loved ones and your hospice care team. Scheduled breaks from your daily duties will allow you the time you need for personal mourning. The certainty of knowing that your loved one is being looked after, or that some details and plans are in others’ capable hands, frees you to go through your own times of pain. Your hospice care team is available for practical assistance as well as emotional concerns.
Wait. Grief can be a long process,and the greater your loss, the longer that process is likely to take. Be patient. Give yourself permission to use as much time as you need – as often as you may need it – to feel and work through the pain and sadness you are experiencing. It won’t happen overnight, but as the days pass, you’ll find more and more small moments of comfort pointing the way to hope.
These suggestions are not intended to give you yet another list of obligations. Remember: you are the one going through this, and your process will be unique to you. Take what works for you and use this guide as a starting point to finding your own way through your time of pain. It may be difficult to consider your own needs, but doing so won’t benefit you alone. As you grant yourself a grieving process, you will be better equipped to serve your loved one and family members. And openly addressing your grief is a way to begin another step everyone shares at time like this: healing.
The chaplains, counselors, social workers and volunteers of Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County are here to provide support, compassion and reassurance to you and your loved ones through every step of life’s final stages.
Our ongoing grief and loss support groups are open to all in our community at no cost. We also offer specialized one-on-one counseling, support groups and other activities to help children and adolescents understand and cope with feelings of grief.
For more information or to register for any of these groups, please contact Randy Berryhill at 704-873-4719, ext. 4353.
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