Sorting Out, Moving On, Remembering
It's a strange feeling, to no longer have the role of
caregiver. The death of a loved one brings with it a lot of grief,
but it also brings a sense of relief. Maybe strangest of all, it
gives you so much time. So much time now to do . . . what?
This hasn't been easy. You're to be congratulated. Taking
care of a loved one till he or she dies is a tremendous
accomplishment. Take pride in the areas where you did well but don't
get down on yourself about things you wished you had done
Don't get caught in the traps of "What if . . . ." and "I should
have . . . ." and "Why didn't I . . . ."
Now there's a feeling of sorting out. Not just your
care-receiver's belongings and necessary paperwork, but your own
In a sense, you've said good-bye to two people. One was the
spouse or family member who was ill. It's not as hard to let that
person move on to a place where there's no suffering as it is to say
good-bye to the other one: the healthy person he or she used to be.
Somewhere along the line, as you were taking care of your ill loved
one, both slipped away.
It's good not to make any major changes at this time. And there's
no reason to rush through cleaning out his or her belongings either.
Try to respect your parent or spouse’s wishes, getting mementos to
the friends and relatives he or she wanted them to go to. Seeing to
it that this or that item is donated to the charity your loved one
As you're sorting these things out, you may just want to sit
there for a while, surrounded by, holding close, the items that
belonged to your husband, wife, mother or father. In this setting,
it may be easier for you to pray for your loved one. To pray to your
It's going to take time for you to sort out all the feelings, the
emotions, you've experienced as a caregiver and are experiencing as
a survivor. And, as time goes by, those emotions will shift. They'll
There will come a time—and there's no need to rush this—when
you'll want to move on. You may want to find a way, a personal
ritual, to say good-bye. There's no right way of doing this. And not
doing it isn't wrong.
Again, moving on takes time. Just as you probably didn't become a
full-blown caregiver overnight, you won't instantly move on to your
"new" life or return to your pre-caregiver life.
You had to learn how to be a caregiver. Now you have to learn
how to rebuild your personal life without it having that role. That
role that dominated your world. Now you may go back to jogging. Can
return to gardening. Can attend your child's soccer games.
You can return to the little, ordinary joys that were a part
of your life before you became a caregiver. You may find new ways to
experience that kind of simple joy. The joy of being alive.
In a sense, your life now has two holes. One is in your
heart. You miss your loved one and no one can replace that person.
The other is in your calendar. You have so much time, so much free
time. That commodity that was so precious and so rare just a little
while ago now fills your schedule.
A part of sorting out, a part of moving on, is remembering. Some of
those memories might be related to your role as caregiver. A good
time, a happy time even, during that difficult period.
Maybe it was when your wife talked about her death and she wasn't
afraid. Maybe when your husband made some small joke and you were
both so tired it seemed like the funniest line ever said and the two
of you laughed until tears streamed down your faces.
Certainly, remembering includes the time before your mother
or father was ill. Memories from your childhood. Memories of
birthday and anniversaries. Memories of telling and retelling family
It can help to remember your parent's "words of wisdom," his
or her personal creed or philosophy. Maybe Mom or Dad never even put
it into words. Just lived it. Maybe it's something you want to think
about for a time to help you get through the difficult period
following your parent's death. Something, if it's a good fit for
you, you want to imitate in some way.
It can also help to remember the times your loved one
comforted you. Those times when he or she helped you when you were
hurting or unsure or restless, when you were discouraged or sad or
It can help if you sit down, take a deep breath, and smile,
remembering—acknowledging—that as a caregiver you did the same for
him or her.
And now your loved one is at peace