Friday, August 17, 2012

When Long Term Caregiving Ends II - The Early Days ...

Welcome to the second post in the series on life after long term caregiving:

For the first while after caregiving ends, (sometimes days, sometimes months, depending on the circumstances), many former caregivers slip into a state of numbness or shock. This is our psyche's way of protecting us from information that is too overwhelming to take in all at once. One former caregiver described it this way:

It was like I was wrapped up in a protective cocoon of cotton wool. The layers came off slowly, one at a time, until I could take it all in.

In these early days of the endings phase of the transition from caregiving to post-caregiving, there are still many tasks to accomplish - loved ones to contact, obituaries to write, funerals to plan, insurance to sort out, death certificates to send to all and sundry, medical equipment to return, medicines to discard safely. It is a very natural response to go on automatic pilot to get everything done.

Once these initial tasks are completed, though, it is not unusual for an accumulation of many years' exhaustion and strain, once held at bay, to come tumbling in. I remember spending weeks on end just sitting and looking out the window, completely depleted and bereft. I grieved some, but not yet with full intensity. I couldn't think in anything longer than a short phrase or sentence. While I probably looked quite depressed to those around me, I was distinctly aware of an intuitive need to do nothing, to be completely quiet and at rest while the bits of my body and soul knit themselves back together. It was a time of pre-grieving - a time of rebuilding a strong enough self to sustain me through the waves of grief to come.

During this time, I was grateful for the words of my grief counsellor, Rabbi Vicki Hollander, who had advised me that when the time for recovery came, I should do what any wise girl guide lost in the woods would do -  sit down, stay put, and conserve resources. This meant resting and resting and resting some more. It also meant focusing on only the absolute basics of life - eating nutritiously, getting sufficient sleep, exercising regularly (in the fresh air, if possible) and doing whatever was necessary to keep afloat financially.

This was a time of waiting and being patient. There was much that I wanted to do, much that had been on hold for a long time. But my energy reserves were seriously depleted and, after seven years of  full time caregiving, it was going take a period of time before I could completely refill the well. Until then, I had to relearn to listen to my body and to respect my need to stop - to give myself what Jan Richardson calls the Blessing of Rest:

Blessing of Rest

Curl this blessing
beneath your head
for a pillow.
Wrap it about yourself
for a blanket.
Lay it across your eyes
and for this moment
cease thinking about
what comes next, 
what you will do 
when you rise.

Let this blessing
gather itself to you
like the stillness
that descends
between your heartbeats,
the silence that comes
so briefly
but with a constancy 
on which
your life depends.

Settle yourself
into the quiet
this blessing brings,
the hand it lays
upon your brow,
the whispered word 
it breathes into
your ear
telling you
all shall be well
all shall be well
and you can rest

Knowing about these early days of recovery is important even for those whose loved ones have survived - perhaps more so, in some ways. While society expects people to need at least a brief recovery period after a death, the same acknowledgement is not necessarily offered to those whose caregiving ends "happily". There may not be the same recognition of depleted resources or losses and adjustments in need of grieving for those whose care recipients are still alive. No matter what the eventual outcome of the illness or disability, long term caregiving costs the caregiver and each and every one of us has the right to recover according to our needs.

Please join us next time as we look at the latter part of the endings phase of our transition from the caregiving to the post-caregiving world.


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