What’s Next After Caregiving?

caregiver is worried on losing his loved one

When you lose a loved one, there is no one “right” way to grieve. Some talk about the “five stages of grief”—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Others argue that these 5 stages are just suggestions, not a road map. Some people may skip right to anger. Someone else might get stuck in depression. Everyone grieves in their own way. Your grief is unique to you.

Whatever you feel is okay. You may feel a bit relieved if a loved one has gone through a prolonged illness. You might feel guilty because there’s more that you could have done. One might be angry that they’ve left them alone.

Might be so depressed that can’t get out of bed. Whatever feeling is the right feeling to have at that moment? Take care of yourself and do what you need to do. If going to the gym or doing yoga relieves your stress and makes you feel better, then do it. If you want to sit at home and look at old photo albums and reminisce about the good times you had with your loved one, then that’s what you should do.

As a caregiver, other parts of your life often take a backseat to caregiving. Caring for your loved one consumes so much of your time and energy that your other identities—wife, mother, friend, co-worker, author, avid runner—often fade into the background. When that loved one is gone and what has become a major part of your identity no longer requires you, what happens next?

Often, caregivers feel a sense of emptiness, not just because their loved one is no longer physically there but because they don’t know what to do with their time now that they are no longer caregivers.

Caring for Yourself After Caregiving

After spending so much time taking care of someone else, it’s okay—and necessary—to take care of yourself. You need to refuel. Family and friends may expect you to go back to “normal,” but give yourself time. Find activities that energize you or bring you peace. Go for a long walk with your dog. Sit and read a good book. Go for a spa day. Write in your journal. Call a friend you haven’t talked to for ages.

It’s important to reconnect and rebuild relationships with other family members, friends, etc. After a loss, we all need uplifting connections with people we trust. Lean on your support network of family, friends, and other people who care about you to help you get through this. It may help to build relationships with others who have experienced what you have—like a grief or caregiver support group.

After the loss of your loved one, you may suddenly find yourself with free time. Find those things that give you purpose and bring joy. Explore new horizons by planning a trip if travel has always been a dream of yours. For those who valued volunteering before caregiving, seek out an organization aligned with your values and inquire about opportunities to volunteer.

Family Caregiver to Professional Caregiver

After caring for a loved one is no longer needed, some caregivers decide to transition. They use their compassion and acquired skills to become paid, professional caregivers in a new career. Depending on the type of care you wish to provide and your location, you may need certification to be hired as a paid caregiver.

Your state’s Department of Health sets the guidelines regarding certification, which can be a source of added grief for caregivers navigating new professional roles. Basic caregiver certification usually requires the completion of a short training course, passing an exam, and regular continuing education to renew your certification. Some places like nursing homes and assisted living facilities only hire certified caregivers. Services that qualify for Medicare payment require it. Having certification can also help you qualify for more positions, earn a higher salary, and advance your career.

If you want to be a personal care aide, certification is generally not required because the level of care provided is restricted to activities that can be effectively done without medical training—such as providing transportation to medical appointments, light housekeeping, preparing meals, and providing companionship. Personal care aides are not allowed to provide direct medical care. Consult your state’s Department of Health to determine if certification is necessary.