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Palliative Care Center

Caregiver Grief and Bereavement

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Handling Grief and Bereavement

Most caregivers who lose a loved one will experience a normal sense of grief and bereavement.  Normal, though, does not mean free of emotional, physical, and spiritual pain. Here are things you can do to help with those feelings:

  • Know the triggers. The first year will have many emotional triggers: first birthday without the loved one, the first Thanksgiving, the anniversary of the death. When these "firsts" occur, the waves of grief can come crashing back.
  • Know your priorities. It's important to maintain friendships, routines, activities, and other things that nourish you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Plan for the unexpected. One way to do this is to think about and rehearse your responses to the questions others might ask. Doing so can keep you from being blind sided.
  • Don't bottle things up. Talk to the palliative care social worker, counselor, advance practice nurse, and physician. Talking about things helps you acknowledge your feelings and enables you to say good-bye and find emotional closure.
  • Don't try to do it alone. Before your loved one is gone, make sure you've put together a support system made up of people you can count on to be there, lean on for support, and depend on for help with chores and other things that need to be done.
  • Don't make big changes. During the first year avoid doing things that will mean a major change in your life. Don't move, don't get divorced, don't cut off communication with people you are close to. Experts say you will be a different person as time passes.
  • Take care of your health. That doesn't just mean eat well, get a good night's sleep, and exercise. It means doing things that ensure emotional and spiritual well-being, too.
  • Don't isolate yourself. Loneliness breeds loneliness. Don't turn down invitations, even though going out may be the last thing you want to do.
  • Deal with anger. Anger is self-perpetuating and can snowball. Grief counseling can help you understand and deal with the anger you feel.
  • Keep the faith. Religion won't "fix" things, experts say. But it can help normalize them. And belonging to a faith group means you have a community for support.
  • Take up new activities. New activities help you form new patterns of doing things and new interests that are not associated with the person who has died.
  • Make humor part of your coping routine. Humor can help provide perspective on the way your life is changing.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 01, 2013
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