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Posted July 29, 2006

Ask An Expert

Caregiver Care: Returning to "Normal" After Caregiving Ends

Q. I need to know what to do when caregiving ends. What resources (articles, books, tips) do you have in mind to help me return to "normal" life now that my caregiving has ended? Thanks!

Joan S., Atlanta, GA

A. Thank you for your thoughtful question regarding what to do when caregiving ends.  I think the first thing to remember is that the loss of a meaningful role – such as caregiving -- also is a cause of grief.  For better or worse, you have been a caregiver for what sounds like a long time.  While the role may have been consuming and stressful, it may have had a sense of reward and in any case was what you did.  That role is now lost.

Also note that we never really go back to the old "normal."  You have to find a sense of routine in this new phase of life.

Begin by asking yourself what activities and interests sustained you before you took on a caregiving role. Have you developed any new interests?  What of friends and family -- what possibilities exist there?  Were you active in any faith-based communities or organizations?  Would you like to return to activities with those groups?  Most importantly -- what do you wish to do and what do you want your life to be?

There are no easy answers, so give yourself time to rediscover, and even reinvent, yourself. This takes time and courage. Use resources -- caregiver support groups and counselors may be helpful as you explore new opportunities. Hospice Foundation of America publishes a monthly newsletter, Journeys, which may be useful. Journeys addresses many issues surrounding grief and often addresses the very issue you asked about. It also has published a book, Caregiving and Loss, which addresses caregiving issues, including potential change that can accompany the loss of a caregiving role. Both of these publications are available at www.hospicefoundation.org.

This answer is provided by Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, M.Div., Senior Consultant, Hospice Foundation of America (HFA). Dr. Doka also is a professor of gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle in suburban New York City. He has written or edited 16 books and published 60 articles and book chapters, and he is editor of Omega, a professional journal, and Journeys, HFA’s monthly bereavement newsletter. Dr. Doka was elected president of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) in 1993. He was elected to the Board of the International Work Group on Dying, Death and Bereavement in 1995, and served as chair from 1997 to 1999. In 1998, ADEC recognized him for outstanding contributions in the field of death education. Dr. Doka is an ordained Lutheran minister. He can be reached through HFA at questions@hospicefoundation.org

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