Many times, the primary caregiver is sharing their bed with the person we have been helping to transition. The primary caregiver has no place to go to get themselves back. The close or primary caregiver, who is often the significant other, and who is living, painfully, through this process of escalating illness and dying, is living this loss 24 hours a day.
Counseling primary caregivers during their loved one’s transition and after it is over contains this common thread of loss of self as well as loss of the other. Often primary caregivers are afraid to complain for fear of feeling selfish or guilty for a number of reasons that only continue to damage them inside. Of course, they want to be everything they can be to their dying loved ones. But we are all still human, and we all still have needs.
We can gently help them to remember that they, too, are losing a partner, or parent, or friend, so part of them is dying also. One of the best things we can do to assist them is to help make a plan to leave for a while when they can, even if it is only to take a walk or to sit in a park.
I have often been a speaker for a group called “Compassionate Friends.” This group is for parents who have lost children. Some members have lost a child only a month earlier; others may have been attending this group for 20 years. You might want to find out if a similar group is available in your area so that you can refer your friend or client’s families. Self-care is important. Let the caregivers know this. There are local support groups for caregivers in every large city and even in small towns. Local cancer societies are a good source for finding them. If caregivers cannot leave home, help them to find a support group online.
Do you have experience with supporting others or being supported yourself during the grieving process?