Perhaps you read the brief title of my article and before delving into its content you’re wondering: The morning after a night of drinking? The morning after doing something regretful – perhaps synonymous with the previous question? The morning after a horrific news event?
None of the above. In the attached article, a fellow blogger writes about his experience of waking up the day after his wife passed away; a day in which he felt the full impact of the loss of his wife and the cessation of his role as her caregiver – his identity for so many years.
Unless, and until, you experience this type of blurry identity, you can’t fully understand the feeling. Those of you who devoted any amount of time caring for a loved one prior to their death understand all too well the emptiness and lack of purpose that oftentimes follows the end of the caregiving journey.
I was the long-distance caregiver for my father after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He lived in a memory care unit of a Southern Oregon continuing care retirement community (CCRC) while I commuted from Seattle by plane, by telephone, and by 24/7 worrying and thinking. By choice, I left my full-time job and for the next four years, dedicated my time to managing his care and being the primary on-site visitor. Many of you worked full-time at your “real” job while being a caregiver for a loved one and I respect and honor you for somehow juggling all of those responsibilities. I knew my limitations, however, and reached that limit quite early in the process. The emotional and physical toll of caregiving was more than I was capable of handling on top of my other job, so with my husband’s blessing and encouragement, we did without my financial contributions while I carried on as my father’s care person.
After my father’s October 13, 2007 death at the age of 89, I returned to Seattle having spent the last hours of my father’s life at his bedside; then several days wrapping matters up with the funeral home; with the bank trustee, and with the facility in which he had lived for close to thirteen years. Although there would be many weeks of tying up loose ends upon my return home to the Seattle area, I was effectively unemployed – laid off from a job to which I was extraordinarily committed. As the blogger in the attached article mentioned – those in this position wake up the day after, and the day after the day after, feeling as though they have lost their purpose. Additionally, the identity which defined them for several years no longer applies.
Grieving and re-purposing our lives can take place during this time, a process which may take months or years; a process that is as individual and unique as ones fingerprint. As the blogger wrote in his article, he appears to be transitioning in a way that utilizes his years of being the primary caregiver and advocate for his wife. He’s recreating his working life; reshaping it to fit the caregiver role in which he flourished. Like this blogger, I too quite naturally segued into employment positions in which I could continue on the path that I had started years earlier with my father: elder advocacy, Alzheimer’s Association volunteerism, and most recently, putting all of those past and present experiences down on paper in the form of a novel.
But that is not necessarily the norm. Some of you may have felt the need to totally disassociate from anything remotely related to the caregiving or care managing roles. I understand that decision and I agree 100% that it’s the right thing for you to do. Again – how we recover and/or regenerate after the caregiving experience is a distinctive aspect of our ongoing lives. What we do have in common, however, is that we have all experienced the morning after the end of our caregiving journey. Whether we’re relieved, angered, aggrieved, or a combination thereof – the morning after is unavoidable.
In closing, I want to celebrate you – the caregiver heroes who are ordinary people, who did the ordinary right thing, at an extraordinary time. You are a hero to many, and you are a hero to me.