| "It was so hard to be with my husband at the end. It was a relief when he finally died," the 80-year-old wife confesses, a month after her spouse finally succumbed to a slowly spreading lung cancer.
But then she adds, with a stricken look, "I feel terrible about feeling relieved. It's as if I wanted him to die. I didn't!"
She pauses again before saying, quietly, "Not really."
Her words reflect the uncomfortable mixture of feelings — mostly sad, sometimes mad, but a little glad — that many family caregivers struggle with after a care recipient dies and caregiving suddenly ends.
The relief is real. Few caregivers miss having to be on edge all the time, awaiting the next cry in the night, a fall or some other medical emergency. Few miss the anguish of seeing a loved one suffering and being unable to provide a remedy. With the care recipient's death comes greater freedom and the leisure time to enjoy grandchildren, old friends and hours absorbed in a book or lingering over coffee.
But the average caregiver also doesn't shout these sentiments from the rooftops, for fear of feeling guilty or of being misunderstood. Just when she should be patting herself on the back for a job well done, she instead beats herself up for feeling relieved. Worse, she may be concerned that, consciously or subconsciously, she wished her ill family member dead and that that wish had the magical power to somehow hasten his demise. These feelings can complicate her grief and delay her post-caregiving adjustment to a less stressful and more contented life.
It is difficult to resolve the conflicting emotions at caregiving's end. But here are some ideas for alleviating the guilt they often cause: