Joe LaGuardia is chaplain for several retirement homes in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of the blog Caregiver Spirituality.
Becoming a caregiver is one of the most difficult transitions in a person’s life. Often, caregiving occurs when a spouse, child, or parent requires assistance on a daily basis, be it due to illness or special needs. Many people are not prepared to take on the caregiving role, especially since the role is one that is rarely expected. Ultimately, the transition to the role of caregiver inherently means a transition in one’s relationship to the one receiving care.
For instance, if an adult child must care for an aging parent, the child/parent relationship changes. The adult child is forced to do many tasks for the parent that the parent once did for the child. A “role-reversal” ensues. For example, if a husband begins to care for his wife, or vice versa, the relationship shifts from that of mutual care and responsibility to a one-sided burden of care. The caregiver may start to see the care receiver as a “child” for whom to care instead of a husband or wife.
The feeling that many new caregivers experience during this time of transition and role-reversal is that of grief. Grief results from any loss, be it loss due to death or loss as a result from a life-change. Grief comes in different forms: anger, resentment, hostility, depression, change in diet, to name a few. Caregivers feel loss in the relationship because the care receiver can no longer meet certain emotional and physical needs for the caregiver. For instance, in a marriage that turns into a caregiving relationship, there may be a loss of intimacy due to the lack of sexual union between spouses. The care receiver cannot fulfill the physical, emotional, and mental needs of the caregiver through physical acts of love or bonding. There is loss in the relationship, and grief is the natural outcome on the part of the caregiver.
For caregivers of ailing family members, grief is especially pertinent because the caregiver is reminded that the care receiver may be close to death. The loss is one of finality or mortality. Sometimes caregivers grieve the death of a loved one long before the loved one even dies, because the person for whom they care is “no longer the person I knew.” This is especially true when the care receiver has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and takes on a different personality or temperament.
If you are a caregiver experiencing grief, it is important for you to seek out professional help. A trusted pastor, counselor, or therapist will help you navigate through your own experience of grief. Your goal should be to express your feelings of loss or frustration in a safe and confidential environment and then find avenues of hope and personal fulfillment in the midst of your caregiver responsibilities.
- Joseph LaGuardia