Episode 40: Grieving the Old You

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Do you remember what it was like before you were a caregiver? Have you allowed yourself to grieve your old way of life? 

I think that if we don’t have a way to give ourselves the time to mourn the loss of who we were it makes it difficult to move forward into the role we are taking on. As much as I would have loved to have things stay the same in my life I had no control over my husband finding out he has cancer. There was no way for either one of us to be prepared for that to happen. If you’ve listened to earlier episodes you know I jumped right in to the deep end without knowing how to swim. I jumped into this new role out of necessity and out of love and didn’t even think of letting go of the parts of me that didn’t fit in. 

When I was pregnant with my daughter I drove a nice new black Hyundai with a dragon decal on the back window. I loved that car and that dragon. When my husband and I realized that a car seat wouldn’t actually fit in the back he bought us a used while dodge caravan. I hated that car because it wasn’t a car… it was a minivan! I went from a cool car to a mom car because that was what I was becoming. Letting go of that car was painful. It was a symbol of who I was and the life I was living. Crying when I got that minivan and being angry about it for a while was the way I processed the fact that my life was changing. After having my daughter and realizing it was perfect to have a van in the midwest with a small child I learned to accept my fate with that car. I was able to process the change and accept my new life role.

I wasn’t given the chance to do that when I became a caregiver. My life got flipped upside down and I tried to hold on to the things that didn’t fit anymore. I tried to make the carseat work in the car that was too small for it because I didn’t realize that I had to move over to the minivan that would make helping my husband live with cancer easier. I didn’t have time to just feel angry, sad and scared. I had to do that while trying to figure out how to move forward with his diagnosis.  

My need to adjust and accept was pushed off to the side. Or better yet, down deep inside. 

Just like moving from a fun car to a mom van, it isn’t easy to go from regular life to caregiver life. There’s nothing sexy or fun about it. Since you weren’t able to let go of the pre caregiver you there isn’t a way for you to fully accept it. It’s hard to find happiness in your life if you don’t know what that looks like anymore. If we keep comparing how bad things are in your life now, compared to before you were a caregiver, then how can you ever find happiness in your life right now? If you are able to accept this role and see yourself as a caregiver then maybe you will be more open to see and experience those tiny moments of joy that will pop up now and again. Maybe we would all be better able to find ways to have even a small amount of fun in life if we are able to own our caregiving.  

Usually when we grieve a loss there is some sort of ceremony or ritual that we hold to commemorate the passing. Maybe we all need to have a moment where we commemorate the people we were before caregiving. The person we were before our loved ones diagnosis. Before we got the phone call with the news. The person we were the morning we woke up on the day that everything changed. Maybe we need to say goodby to them. It's possible you haven’t been that person for a long time and it might feel foolish to even go through the process, but what can it hurt?

I don’t know what that process would look like for you. Maybe print out some pictures of yourself and your loved one before you became a caregiver and they became sick or disabled. You can make a memorial board on your iPad or computer or a physical one you can set someplace private. You could write a letter to yourself on that last day before becoming a caregiver. Maybe say good bye and let them know how the story continues after they are gone. You didn’t change into a completely new person, there are parts of you that stayed and adapted and parts of you that had to go. You could write down the parts of your pre-caregiver life that you miss.  

Find a way to use these things to say goodbye. You can light a big fire and throw them in. You can cut it up. You can rip it up or you can wrap it up into a keepsake and store it away somewhere for you to look at later. 

It’s ok to say goodbye to the way things where before caregiving. As you look at your life right now you’ll probably notice that they have been gone for a long time now. You just hold on to them because you haven’t given yourself a way to say goodbye to them. 

You’re a caregiver. You have the strength to say goodbye to these things so that you can fully step into being a caregiver and the new man or woman you have become.  

Let yourself let go.  

I’d love to hear or see pictures of how you let go and grieved the loss of your pre-caregiver self. Share with me.

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