Dear Family Advisor

End of Caregiving

Last updated: Mar 02, 2009

My mom is now in hospice, and I know it won't be too long before she passes. I'm a wreck. I've been caring for her full-time for five years (she's had three bouts with breast cancer that metastasized). I can't seem to do anything but cry. I know I need to be here for her now, but I'm already grieving.

Caregiving has become such a part of my life that I don't know if I'm grieving her loss or my own loss. How do I get through these next months, and then how do I move on after my mother's no longer here?

You have every right to feel sad, numb, and scared. It's normal to hurt that your mom is dying. And I mean hurt a lot. This is a big deal. And it's natural to long that she could continue to be with you -- and to have concerns about your own future.

There's really no time frame for when you're supposed to start or stop grieving. Grieving is a normal reaction to the dying process. If you feel like crying, then do just that. Your body knows how to handle grief. Fighting against it only prolongs what you need to go through. Grieving is hard, and it has physical effects -- not being able to eat or sleep, or sleeping and eating too much, irritability, inability to focus. If you give yourself permission to fall apart, you may find it doesn't last as long as you expect. Sometimes we just need to get it out.

By admitting your feelings to yourself or others, you'll probably find that you're more present with your mom. By feeling the grief, you'll also feel the connection you and your mom share. Although it's a painful time, in a strange way it's also a precious time.

As for your concern about how to get through it after she dies, you will feel lost after she passes. We can't love and give of our time and heart without it deeply affecting us. For a long time, you might feel like it's hard to even take a breath. But this will ease eventually.

Also try not to feel guilty that part of the grief you feel concerns you -- that you wonder how you'll be something other than a caregiver. It's healthy to wonder about how your identity will change when so much of you has been wrapped up in the caregiving role for so long. This is a natural train of thought. Think of your mom: She'd want you to be thinking about yourself in this way.

Take steps to comfort yourself as you work through these challenging emotions. Keep a journal, call a friend, take long walks, go to a support group -- anything and everything you can do that helps you handle all you're facing. Most hospices offer a variety of services including home health aides and respite care so you can take a day or two off, so please use this resource. To keep going, you need a break now and then.

Although I know you feel miserable, your ability to articulate what you're going through tells me that you'll continue to manage as well as anyone could in this tough situation.