For most Family Caregivers (FC), the responsibilities of caregiving come as a season of life and are not life-long avocations. For a few, caregiving moves from one generation to another and indeed does last as long as the caregiver is healthy and robust enough to give care to others. But for all Family Caregivers, a time comes when they must say goodbye to the one for whom they care. This moment may occur when the care recipient’s needs become too advanced for the FC to manage. It might come through life changes such as health concerns experienced by the caregiver, or a move necessitated by circumstances beyond your control. And it might come at the end of life. We won’t talk about closure with death in this blog post but will address that in a future blog.
When the time comes to say goodbye in the relationship of the Family Caregiver and the loved one for whom you care, creating opportunities for closure is important to the health and well-being of both parties involved. With careful consideration, this closure can create good memories and positive feeling of confidence and love.
It’s important to involve your loved one in decisions related to how their care will change in the days and weeks ahead. If the care needed is no longer something you can adequately provide, you will need to decide if a professional home care agency could provide the advanced requirements and allow your loved one to remain in their own home, or if facility care is now necessary. We will address in a later blog what components to consider in making this decision, but if you have questions now, please let us know, and we will be happy to discuss this with you privately. If you can no longer continue in the role of Family Caregiver because of health reasons or the necessity to relocate out of the area, you should discuss as much of this information with your loved one as you feel comfortable sharing and discuss options for their continued care. Let them talk about their fears, concerns, and preferences. Reinforce your love and concern for their safety and health as you talk about their continued care. They will appreciate you even more for letting them participate in the decision-making process.
If dementia is part of this equation, only share what is essential and don’t try to explain in detail what is occurring. Minimizing stress is always a crucial component to a successful transition, whether the change is to a new living environment or a new care provider. If the dementia is in an early stage, you will be able to share more information. If the dementia is well-advanced, your loved one might not even realize when their environment or their care provider changes. This situation can cause grief to you as the Family Caregiver, but take comfort that your loved one will be in good hands with the necessary transition.
Finally, take time to say goodbye. You could create a photo album with pictures of you and your loved one doing things together, to help you “be there” even when you are far away. If possible, stay in touch through cards, letters, phone calls, or Skype calls when you are gone. But be sure to let the new care situation become established. Ask your mom or dad how the new caregiver is doing, but don’t expect them to do things the same way you did them. If your loved one has moved to a new facility, check in often and make sure they are engaged in social activities if possible. The more social engagement they have, the quicker they will acclimate to their new environment.
Accept the reality of why you needed to step aside and create the new care strategy. Celebrate the time you have spent as a Family Caregiver, and cherish the memories you created, the lessons you learned, and the wisdom you now possess from these experiences. Allow all of this to enrich you as you move into a new season of life, better equipped for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.