The Caregiver’s Guide to Grief

Most people who are drawn to caregiving work are, by nature, exceptionally caring and empathic. Regardless of your reason for being drawn to caregiving, we understand that being a caregiver definitely has its joys as well as its challenges.

The joy of being able to care for people in need, help them be independent, and make a positive difference in their lives is hard to describe. What adds even more to the joy is feeling their sincere gratitude and appreciation. In some cases, caregivers even become like part of the family, with a bond that lasts a lifetime.

One of the biggest challenges for a caregiver happens when the relationship comes to end – whether because of a change in the family situation, a condition that requires hospitalization, or the client’s death. When a caregiving relationship comes to an end, you may experience a grieving period.

When a Client Passes Away

The hardest ending is of course when a client you have loved and cared for passes away. Grief is a very natural response to the loss of someone you care about. A client’s death can even trigger renewed feelings of grief for other losses you have had in your life, such as the death of a parent or other loved one. At times, such feelings can become overwhelming. You may experience difficult and unexpected emotions, including anger, guilt, or profound sadness. 

Grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are all very normal reactions to loss—and the more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.

The Stages of Grieving

Grieving the loss of a client is nothing to be ashamed of. It shows that you really cared about the person, and that is a good thing. It’s a sign that you are a genuinely caring and loving person who brings love and happiness into the lives of others. The stages of grief may include:

  • Denial
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Depression

However, the stages don’t go in any particular order. We all have our own ways of coping with grief, and the grieving process takes more or less time depending on our mindset and other factors in our life. To quote the Hospice Foundation of America:

“Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.”

How to Cope with Loss

Here are a few suggestions on how to cope with any kind of loss:

  • Recognize and Acknowledge your Feelings – This may sound simple, but the first step in grieving is to recognize your emotions and allow them to be expressed.
  • Give Yourself Time – Be kind to yourself and give yourself time and space to grieve your loss.
  • Talk to Your Supervisor About It – Talk to your boss or supervisor so you can share your experiences and feelings openly and freely with them, without any worry about compromising the client’s or their family’s privacy.
  • Get Help from Your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) – Our employee assistance program is an employee benefit program that assists employees with personal problems and/or work-related problems that may impact their job performance, health, mental and emotional well-being. EAP counselors are on call to help you navigate your grief and will keep an eye out for any signs of depression.
  • Join a Support Group – Grief can feel very lonely. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. Find a bereavement support group in your area.
  • Draw Solace from Your Faith. – If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, or going to your church or temple—can offer a lot of solaces.
  • Find Comfort in the Memories – Remember the good times you shared and take joy in knowing that you made a positive difference in the life of the person who has died. 

As you emerge from the grieving process, you will eventually be able to celebrate the life that you were able to be a part of – even if only briefly. We’ll leave you with this beautiful quote from Helen Keller: “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply, becomes part of us.”

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