The Family Caregiver - Coping With The Losses Of Caregiving

By Barbara Small

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Although we expect to grieve when someone dies or is diagnosed with a terminal illness, we may not expect the recurring grief we can experience throughout the time we care for that person. Facing ongoing loss is one of the many challenges that family caregivers encounter as we adjust to changes in our family member's health. With each change, we can experience feelings of loss. Each loss requires mourning.

Depending on the specifics of your family member's illness or disability, you may be struggling with one or more of the following losses:

- Independence

- Privacy

- Hopes and dreams for the future

- Financial security

- Changes in the relationship

- Your social life

- Your job

- Your home

Grief can manifest itself in many ways including guilt, anxiety, helplessness, irritability, anger or frustration. It is important that caregivers deal with these emotions as they occur rather than allowing the grief to build.

In addition, the chronically ill person may also have to cope with relinquishing their hopes and dreams and facing the fear of more ongoing loss. Changing roles in family, work and social situations that result from a person's illness can create additional adjustment problems.

Some steps for coping with caregiving-related loss include:

- Recognize and talk about your feelings. Good friends, family members or local religious organizations can be good sources of support. Reach out to others to help reduce feelings of isolation.

- Join a support group. Support groups provide caregivers with the opportunity to share with other caregivers and learn from one another. The Family Caregivers' Network and other disease-specific agencies, such as the Alzheimer's Resource Centre, provide support groups for family caregivers.

- Honour your memories while acknowledging the present situation and what is still possible.

- Write down your feelings. Though not for everyone, writing or journaling is a wonderful way to express feelings of loss and grief.

- Read a book on coping with grief and loss.

- Make time for yourself. Do what works for you: garden, read, go for a walk or visit with others.

- Ask for help to meet the demands of caregiving.

- The Family Caregivers' Network Society offers a workshop "How to Live with Ongoing Loss: A Challenge for Family Caregivers" on Saturday, Feb. 10, 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Call the FCNS office at 384-0408 for more information.

Next month: Community-based Support Services

Pull Quote: "I think the worst loss of all was the loss of being two people who cared for and about each other. Gone were our shared interests. Gone were our dreams for the future. Gone were the stimulating conversations and thought-provoking discussions. Gone was my sense of security and safety. Gone was the husband I had known and loved."

(Kay Marshall Strom, A Caregivers' Survival Guide, 2000.)

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