Feeling Normal Again
Your role as caregiver for your parent or in-law will end with the death of that person. Perhaps it continues or will one day resume as you have to care for surviving parents, but for now it has come to a close. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel.
You will suddenly find yourself with a lot more time on your hands and perhaps even a sense of feeling lost and not knowing what to do with yourself. This may or may not be the time to consider returning to work or starting a new job. Too many changes within a short time after the death of a close relative can play havoc with your immune system, but if this has been a long process, a positive change could be good for you. This will be a personal choice after some careful consideration of the risks and benefits. However, do take sufficient time to heal and replenish yourself. Make some minor changes such as a new routine — get back into life by trying something new or pursuing a hobby or talent. You might even begin by volunteering.
You will have to deal with your grief. Don't force it; grief cannot be rushed. You have to allow yourself to experience it and go through all of the stages. You will most likely also begin to experience some grief for the loss of your role as caregiver. Although you may welcome this change, you will grieve for the change along with the loss of your parent.
Consider grief counseling or a bereavement group. If your parent had hospice care, this option should have been presented to you. You may have declined it and need to consider revisiting this choice. Or you may need to seek some individual professional counseling. Even one or two sessions can point you in the direction of understanding your feelings and moving through the grief process.
Don't beat yourself up. Stop playing the “what if,” “if only,” and “I should have” games. Take pride in the fact that you made a difference in your elder's life. The fact is that if you hadn't done what you did, his life would have been very different and most likely not as he wanted at all.
Put a moratorium on making major changes in regards to your parents' home or belongings. If you don't have to sell the house or clean out her belongings, wait about six months. You'll have a better perspective on things by then and will have given yourself some time to heal and separate from the fresh emotions of the situation and make plans for the future.
While deeply involved in the emotions of your parent's death, you might think that getting rid of everything or even rearranging the furniture and giving away clothing will help you and your loved ones heal and move on. However, after a few months, having a personal item of clothing or some trinket you may have dismissed earlier would now be of great comfort to you. Acting hastily can be cause for remorse and regret. Give yourself some time and make decisions with careful thought.
Your journal may also be a great source of encouragement and comfort in the future in remembering this time with your parent. You may have spent a tremendous amount of time together, and if you have recorded special moments and memories, they can serve to comfort you in moments of loneliness and help keep your loved one alive in your heart.
If you have used a journal to help you through this process, continue to record your thoughts and feelings. This will help you with closure and at some point in the future will remind you of this special time in your life. If you will face another round of care giving, the journal may be very helpful to avoid pitfalls and remember how you got through some of your darkest and most difficult moments.
With time and patience, you will begin to feel normal again. Your experience will have no doubt changed you, but you will begin to move back into a routine and feel alive again. Be proud of what you did. As you will have learned all too well, not everyone can do what you did nor do it with as much love, compassion, and devotion.