Coping With Emotions

Coping After Giving End of Life Care

After providing end of life care to someone with cancer, it takes time to adjust to living without that person and the daily responsibilities. It starts with accepting your emotions and making small adjustments.

When providing end of life care to someone you love, you’re constantly steeling yourself for the day he or she is no longer there. Once that day comes, no matter how much you think you’ve prepared, it’s still a shock and takes time to recover. You may be embarking on a new life on your own after the loss of a spouse or coping with the loss of a parent and helping your children handle the death. When you’ve lost someone you took care of, it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions.

At first, you’re busy. You have to plan a funeral or memorial service, notify friends and family and handle the person’s estate. People drop by to bring you food, see how you’re doing and take you out to eat. But eventually, the visits slow, and it’s up to you to move on with your new role.

Facing the Future

You can expect to feel a range of emotions, from relief that your loved is no longer suffering to sadness and even anger. You may feel relief from the responsibility of being a caregiver and then feel guilty for feeling that way. It’s all normal, and it’s OK to take time to actually feel. You don’t have to hide your emotions or act strong for others. This time is all about you.

Seek out friends and others who have been through a similar situation. After her husband of more than 40 years died, Pat Ridgway sought out others who had lost their husbands. Her husband received end of life care in a hospice house, so she attended support groups and free counseling, which helped her process the conflicting emotions. She also read books about grief and healing.

Reconnect with previous hobbies. Being a caregiver is a big responsibility and can often take away from activities you once enjoyed. Maybe you weren’t able to travel much because of medical care or physical limitations. Plan a trip, even a small one. Traveling alone can be intimidating, but travel guru Rick Steves says the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to going solo.

Moving On

Ridgway cared for her husband at home for two years before he died. A few months after the initial grief had started to soften, she redecorated. That meant donating handicap equipment and clearing out the stacks of medical supplies. “I bought a new sofa and bedspread, redecorated the living room,” she says. “It was comforting and empowering to make small changes in moving forward.”

Similarly, Libby Miller cared for her mother for 16 years after a broken hip and throughout her battle with lung cancer, while raising three boys. When her mom died, Miller had to break the news to her kids who were teenagers and adjust how the household ran. When she was alive and well, her mother took on much of laundry, cleaning and most of the cooking. Miller and the kids then adjusted to taking on those duties. While talking logistics may not be exactly what you want to do after handling end of life care, it can help you adjust beyond your caregiver life and find time for hobbies and other relationships.

“I felt prepared when she died, but I still miss her all the time,” Miller said. “As a family, we talked about her and shared memories together. Sometimes I still want to call her and tell her about something that happened.” She feels grateful for the chance to be a caregiver to her mom, even though it wasn’t something she had expected to do.

Counseling services and support groups can give you an outlet to work through your emotions and find ways to move forward.

Learn More
Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney