Stage Four: Letting Go
By now you and your care receiver may have experienced many losses. The shocking diagnosis was followed by loss of dreams for each of you. Then there was loss of companionship as you once knew it. Later you may have been saddened by your care receiver's loss of dignity as he or she needed assistance with the most personal of activities of daily living. The caregiver of a stroke survivor interviewed for an article called "Lives Out Of Sync" in the St. Petersburg Times, Sunday, August 11, 2002, summed it up in one sentence when describing how the stroke changed her husband: "He was a project leader who designed the hand controls on a space rocket who can't write his name, who can't say his name."
Now you are approaching your care receiver's last days, either in the home or in a nursing home or other facility. Even if you have found good caregiver support, it is hard to be prepared for the pain that comes with losing someone. The natural reaction to loss of any kind is grieving. A caregiver may grieve for years as the care receiver's illness progresses. Some caregivers grieve deeply after placing the care receiver in a nursing home. They may feel both relief at having fewer hands-on caregiving responsibilities and the loneliness of being in an empty house.
Although Stage Four caregiving involves sadness and grieving for both you and the care receiver, some of the most meaningful moments of your caregiving experience may occur during this time. Tasks for stage four caregiving include resolving relationships, making sure end-of-life decisions are complete, talking openly about death, asking for hospice care, and continuing to care for yourself. After the death, creating memorials to the deceased may give you comfort. Finally, as you reenter regular life, you may find that you have grown and changed, with dreams that you are ready to pursue.
You already know many strategies for coping with the challenges of caregiving. Stages One, Two, and Three were full of ideas, and you probably figured out many things on your own. Stage Four: Letting Go focuses on meaningful and positive experiences that can be yours and provides ideas for honoring your care receiver in the last months of life and after death.
To access the services or programs described in this Handbook, call the Senior Helpline at 1-800-96-ELDER, (1-800-963-5337). For inquiries from outside of the area call 727-217-8111.