Critter Corner: What Should I do After My Full-Time Caregiving Role Ends?

Dear Angel,

My husband has dementia and he will be entering a nursing home soon. I’ve been his full-time, in-home caregiver for ten years and in all honesty, I can’t even imagine what life will be like when I’m not in this role. Of course, I’ll visit him, but since I’m not the one taking care of him full-time, I’ll have more time on my hands. Where do I begin? Should I feel guilty for making such plans.

Thanks!
Karen Sfreer-Danshewas

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Dear Karen,

Family caregivers typically don’t like to think about the challenge of what comes next when their role changes, but you really don’t need to feel guilty about doing so. You have helped your husband full-time for ten years, and now he’ll be getting the care he needs in a nursing home.

We understand how it can be tough to know where to begin. In fact, we’ve heard former caregivers say that, after years of being single-mindedly consumed with caregiving, they don’t really know who they are or what they want to do anymore.

Here are some ideas on where to start:

• Start planning now:  Take time to reflect upon who you have been in the past and who you would like to be in the future. Is there some place you’ve always wanted to go or some achievement you’ve always wanted to accomplish? Take a look at your bucket list, or create one if you don’t already have one, and start checking things off.

Embrace how you have changed: Consider how the experience of full-time caregiving has changed you — perhaps made you more compassionate and hopeful, knowing and capable. See caregiving as a source of lessons that will inform the rest of your life.

Use your new skills: Through managing pillboxes and insurance statements, and communicating with aides, physicians, and difficult relatives, caregivers learn skills — many of them frequently overlooked — of organization, technical know-how and diplomacy. You can use your skills in a part time job, a volunteer opportunity, or as an unofficial consultant to friends and neighbors in order to use your hard-won knowledge in helpful ways.

Relish the values: Being a good caregiver requires tolerance for frustration and self-sacrifice, the will to make a positive difference in the lives of others, and a commitment to bearing adversity in the hope of creating better days for someone else. You can use these skills no matter what you choose to do. When the going gets tough again in life — and it probably will — you will have the confidence to handle it because you have done so before and you will carry others with you because you now know how.

Whatever you decide to do now that you have more time, enjoy yourself, but be sure to visit your husband often too. Please do not succumb to feelings of guilt or regret. These are useless and potentially harmful emotions. You have made your decision. Trust yourself enough to know that you have made the right decision for everyone involved and do not look back and doubt or second-guess yourself. Move forward with your life with positivity and the peace of mind of knowing that he is in the best possible place he can be and that you have done for him the best you could have done.

Purrs,
Angel

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