It’s a $450 billion industry, contributing billions of hours to the US economy each year. What is it? It’s the unpaid healthcare market. Yet because it’s unpaid, it’s one of the most unfocused.
It takes a lot of time, effort, and financial obligations to take care of the people we love the most. Family caregivers are at the core. To provide a level of care and comfort our loved ones need, caregivers continue to sacrifice a great deal from both their personal and professional lives. Careers aren’t the only thing impacted; it hurts our relationships, our finances, our health, even our spiritual needs are often left unattended in the interest of providing the ultimate in care. Over time, it often becomes a core part of the caregiver’s identity.
But what happens when caregiving ends?
When a caregiver’s life has been consumed by the needs of another, a lot of turmoil can occur following the death of the care recipient. How do you refocus on your own life when your life hasn’t been your own for so long?
It can feel a little selfish at first. Instead of putting your energy outward and onto someone else’s needs, you have the time to devote to yourself. Where do you begin? How do you handle the grief and the emotions surrounding coming back to terms with yourself?
Find Your Rituals
We all have rituals, or actions, unique to our behavior and the way we choose to live. They are yours and yours alone. As a caregiver, your rituals often blend with the daily activities required for caregiving. Maybe you had breakfast precisely at 8 am. Maybe you listened to a favorite song or musical group. Maybe you read a favorite author out loud. Lean into these rituals – with a twist. How can you claim them as your own? Instead of making breakfast at home, can you meet old friends at a coffee shop instead? Can you take a book to your local park and read outside, breathing in the fresh air? You’ll find peace in familiar moves. Embrace these new rituals as you turn them into something you enjoy – for you.
Give Yourself Time For Sadness
Grief takes a lot out of us, and it rarely works on a schedule. We can’t set aside a time for feeling sad, then walk away when the time is over. It’s a unique journey for each of us. It brings a wide range of emotions, some of which can be unexpected or confusing. Don’t judge. Feel it. Be honest with yourself and explore why you feel as you do. Yet don’t let it overwhelm you. Walk away from it and give yourself time away. If it gets too deep, pop in a funny movie. Or call a friend to head out for a walk. Lean in and accept your feelings, with the understanding that you can lean back out when the time is right.
Reach Out To Others
Your new life should be about establishing new interests and re-establishing social connections that have disappeared. If you have a friend you haven’t seen in awhile, call her up and invite her for lunch. Begin laying the foundations for bringing back joy into your life. But don’t forget you are in a new place. If you didn’t enjoy book club before, don’t jump back into it now because it’s there. Look for something new to fill your time. A class at your local rec center can introduce you to new activities and a new group of friends.
Pay Attention To The New You
Daily physical activity is a proven stress reliever, positive emotion booster, and it improves your overall outlook on life. Get up, have your coffee, and walk for a half hour. That investment in yourself can help put you back on the right track. From there, attend to all of your other physical needs. Buy new sheets to help you sleep better at night. Get your hair cut. Join a workout class. Practice daily meditation. Whatever you’ve wanted to explore in the past, give yourself permission to do it now.
Also, realize that nothing replaces the advice of a licensed therapist. Each person’s grief is unique, and sometimes the process can be overwhelming. Seeking help from a licensed therapist can be an incredible gift to your recovery process. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a time to gain expert insight and coping techniques to gain knowledge of what you need most during this difficult time. It’s a way to find your best path towards healing.