A friend and I were talking about her mother who had passed away after years battling Alzheimer’s. Maria has had a great deal of experience with dementia. She had worked as a nursing home manager for several years, had to put her ex-husband into a nursing home visiting him regularly, and eventually cared for her mom at home until her death.

What we were discussing was how the caregiver feels after their loved one has passed. She still regrets not being more patient with her mom and felt guilt over this. I’m in contact with many caregivers but once their loved one passes away they usually stop communicating on the support group sites. I began to ponder how they felt after their caregiving days were over and what are their challenges both short and long term.

Like my friend, guilt over not having done it better is probably number one. Guilt over wanting it over before they passed away, guilt over feeling relieved of the burden and guilt over not having done enough.

Most caregivers won’t admit this but as their loved one’s condition worsened and the 24/7 care becomes exhausting there is often a hidden wishing it was over; meaning of course when the person has died. How horrible to wish them dead! You love them but they have become such a stranger and so problematic you just don’t know if you can continue.

I understand you don’t want them dead, you just want this over.

Then the guilt sets in. Guilt over feeling you don’t love this strange person who is in your loved one’s body and of course the guilt of wanting it done with.

When it’s finally over after years of continuous care and putting someone else’s needs before your own you might feel kind of lost. What now? Finding out who you are now and finally attending to your own needs can be very difficult. This has to become a time of introspection and going over what you want to do with your life now. Looking back and feeling you should have done it better will get you nowhere. If you hold onto the regrets of the past it remains in your present.

It’s time for a new start and to look forward to the future after so many years of dealing with the challenges of each day one at a time. Yes, it can seem kind of scary, after all, caregiving was familiar and this new world you are entering isn’t.

Create a better self. Get therapy if you need it and most importantly, get healthy; better diet, exercise, join a gym. Become more social; book clubs, church groups, or host parties. Try something new; a painting class, yoga, or Tai Chi. Make this new stage of your life into the very best it can be.

No regrets; you did the best you could. And leave it at that.


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