The reality of grief in the life of a caregiver
Caregivers live with loss and grief— a reality at the heart of the caregiver and care receiver relationship. Loss must be faced, focused and named so that we can grieve. After a major loss, only the grieving path can soften our dried heart, nurture us with humility and, in time, cradle gratitude in our souls.
Grief is natural when someone who matters deeply to us is no longer accessible to us in the way we’d wish. Suddenly, our world is jumbled. A spouse, child or friend dies—or is diminished by a physical, mental or emotional disability. This grief can linger for years, especially when resurfaced by annual milestones of remembrance.
Soon, we realize that dreams have vanished along with our loss. The loss of dreams is often not as obvious as physical loss, but their fading can drape a wet, gray blanket over life. Sometimes, it’s difficult to discern that this is happening. We may grieve the loss of a spouse and ignore an equally deep need to mourn the loss of our dreams about that relationship.
Grieving is a primary spiritual practice that engages heart, mind and soul. Ultimately, grieving is the process of accepting the world as it comes to us. It is the process of compassionately embracing the world again—as it is now.
If we define grieving as facing the horror we have experienced and giving up the hope of a different past, then we are also describing key elements of forgiveness. The two are intertwined. Grieving may mean that we forgive God, forgive others—and forgive ourselves. As we mourn, we gradually let go of our imprisoning fixation on what has happened. By forgiving, we pave the way for joy and gratitude to return.
In all the world’s great spiritual traditions, grieving is a life-giving discipline that leads us back to compassion and, ultimately, to joy.
For more help
If you would like to learn more about dealing with caregiver grief, burnout and other similar issues, please take a look at my book, Guide for Caregivers. Guide for Caregivers is designed to restore balance to your spirit—to replace sadness with laughter, fear with hope, exhaustion with vitality, mourning with gratitude, emptiness with joy and burnout with a rekindled passion.