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The Unique Grief of a Family Caregiver

The Unique Grief of a Family Caregiver

Most of us have heard of the five stages of grief developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying”. Kubler-Ross defines these stages as: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Often these stages are used as the measuring stick to evaluate where you are in your grief process, as a road map for family and friends to sort through the overwhelming nature of grief. Yet, grief doesn’t fit a mold, it takes on a life of it’s own after a loved one passes away. While, the stages of grief can be helpful, be careful not to use these stages as a linear process where ultimate healing means progressing through each stage completely.

For the family caregiver, grieving the loss of a loved one is a complicated and holy experience. Each person grieves uniquely. There are so many changes that take place for a family caregiver after the loss of a loved one–their schedule, finances, and responsibilities all may radically change. A routine they may have had for years is suddenly gone. For many family caregivers, they have been grieving the loss of their loved one for sometime, as they have watched a disease slowly steal the husband or wife, mother or father they have known and loved. They enter grief exhausted, worn out from the worthy burden of being a caregiver.

Every journey of grief is unique. The stages may be a helpful tool, but don’t let the tool define your grief. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you walk through your own unique journey of grief:

– There is no time limit. Your journey of grief will look different than other family members. Don’t pressure yourself with a time limit to complete the journey. The loss will never completely go away, but there will be a time when it won’t be so overwhelming.

-There is no emotion that is off limits.  You may experience a variety of emotions from peace and joy to anger and sadness and everything in between. Allow yourself the freedom to express your emotions.

-Grief is not linear. One day you may feel like you are moving toward acceptance and the next you may be overwhelmed by anger and denial. You are not back-tracking, you are grieving.

-Ask for help. Talk to a friend or a professional counselor. Don’t walk the journey of grief by yourself.


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