We all experience bereavement differently. Our relationship with the loved one we’ve lost can influence our feelings acutely: we may experience grief, regret, relief, panic. If we’ve been looking after them in the days, months or years before their death, we may feel like there’s a gaping hole in our lives.
The cocktail of emotions will be unique to us and there is no right or wrong way to feel.
Take Pippa’s story for example.
Pippa cared for her mother and father as their health deteriorated.
‘We talked openly about death. We talked about their wishes and what a “good death” would be for them. They both wanted to die at home.’
As it happened, Pippa’s dad died first. He had a gastric bleed and had to go to hospital.
‘I held his hand and said, “Dad, you’re going to meet your Maker soon”, and he squeezed my hand in acknowledgement.’
Pippa phoned as usual the next morning. All was comfortable. Half an hour later, the nurse phoned to say her dad had passed away.
‘This was and still is the hardest emotion for me to carry, a weight to bear: I wasn’t with him.’
Soon afterwards, her mum’s health started to deteriorate rapidly.
‘One day at home I held her head in one hand and her hand in the other. I felt the end was coming. There was a gentle lapping rhythm to it, with waves approaching and fading. She took her last breath and my tears fell gently. It was beautiful.’
Whether you lose a loved one at home, or at hospital or in a care setting, coping with the immediate practicalities can be tough. You may be kept busy with the immediate tasks such as getting a doctor to issue a cause of death, registering the death, organising the funeral plans, dealing with probate and contacting health, government and other institutions to advise them of the death.
You may find you can only focus on your own feelings once these matters are dealt with.
Not having to care anymore may bring a sense of relief and an accompanying sense of guilt. You may feel overwhelmed or empty, or wish that things had taken a different course. This is perfectly normal.
The death may also mean the relationships you built up with the professionals involved in their care have to come to a sudden end.
You may have lost contact with friends and family because of the demands of your caring role, which can feel very isolating.
Picking up old social contacts or meeting new people may be the last things you feel like doing when you have just lost someone, so take things at a pace that feels right for you and take some time to yourself. The people around you can be a huge help and there are organisations who can offer support.
Pippa found it took a long time to recover from the experience:
‘The whole year after Mum’s death was a year of recovery for me: physical, mental and emotional. I’d pushed myself to the limits – looking after Mum’s health, but not my own.
‘I thought a lot about whether I could have done anything differently. At times I felt I was in a tunnel of loneliness. There were areas where I felt guilty, but I decided not to dwell on those and instead focus on what I had done well and draw strength from that.’
Other helpful websites
Carers UK recently received a grant from the Bupa UK Foundation. The Bupa UK Foundation funds practical projects that will make a direct impact on people's health and wellbeing. Launched in 2015, to date it has awarded over £1 million in grants to 36 projects across the UK, supporting work to improve people’s mental health and to support carers.
However caring affects you, Carers UK is here to listen and give you expert information and advice that’s tailored to your situation. We champion your rights and support you in finding new ways to manage at home, at work, or wherever you are.
For more information on coping with bereavement and everything else that caring has to throw at you, visit our website: www.carersuk.org