As a former caregiver I know what it is to devote years to the well-being of someone other than yourself. After spending 10-plus years caring for my father I know what I’m talking about, and although I wouldn’t have had it any other way, I know I lost part of my life that I won’t regain.
If you know friends or relatives who have lost a loved one and just are beginning the grieving process, please call or visit them. I guarantee that when asked, “Is everything okay?” they will tell you they are doing fine. Well, my opinion is that 99.9 percent of them are covering up the truth — that they are falling apart and desperately need help and friendship! They’re going to need all kinds of assistance, especially with restarting a social life.
After years of tending to a loved one and living life in full-tilt caregiver mode, it is very distressing suddenly to find that, after the loved one’s passing, all things familiar seem to come to a halt, leaving a lonely void. You could be standing outside in the middle of a field and still feel the walls closing in.
After almost a decade of watching Dad’s every move and trying to anticipate his every need, it was like someone had all of a sudden opened a set of floodgates and a raging river of newly released freedom came roaring through. For years I barely had been able even to get away to a grocery store. Then, abruptly, I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. This was quite disconcerting. The truth of the matter was, I didn’t even feel like leaving my own driveway. Oh, sure, I had told myself many times that when this journey was over I was going to treat myself to a well-deserved and much overdue vacation; maybe even visit some old friends. The reality was I couldn’t even get myself to leave the county.
It’s highly unlikely those who have traveled down the rough road of caregiving ever will look at life in the same manner again, but I mean that in a good way. Most come away with tremendous growth in their emotional and spiritual inner-beings.
There’s no question there is a recovery stage through which one must travel, so if you know of any caregivers who recently have lost a loved one, help them find their way back into the human race. Take them to lunch or to an uplifting movie. The simple act of getting them out of the house might bounce them back onto the right path to begin enjoying life again.
If you should happen to be that particular caregiver, please, don’t wait for that phone call or visit; be proactive. Go out and find something to occupy your time. Discover something that will bring some spirit back into your life. Try not to spend too much time in solitude. I know that at first you might want to be alone; I did, too. But trust me, don’t let that period drag on too long. It becomes unhealthy. If someone is telling you that you need to “get out a little,” listen to them. They’re probably right and are seeing something you might be missing.
Again, I’ve been there. The longer I let this go on, the harder it was to shake it off.
For a decade Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His newly released book “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors,” and his other books “While I Still Can” and an expanded edition of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness,” can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.