Predicting how you'll feel after experiencing the loss of a loved one is not always accurate. You might have an idea of what might happen through the process known as anticipatory grief, but some of the emotions that overtake you may be quite surprising.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Might You Feel Relief After a Loved One Dies?
- 11 Tips for Managing Caregiver Guilt or Relief After a Loved One Dies
One of the things that some caregivers and family members fail to consider is that death and relief sometimes go hand in hand. This mix of emotions following the death of a loved one you cared for is more common than you might think, and can also be the cause of great suffering for some.
Why Might You Feel Relief After a Loved One Dies?
Spending endless hours caring for a loved one going through their end-of-life journey is not only exhausting but emotionally taxing on the caregiver. In most cases, the caregiver doesn’t have the time or energy to reflect on what they’re going through or stop and analyze their emotional well-being.
When a person suffering a prolonged illness dies, all the caregiving stops abruptly, and other processes take over. It’s natural to feel relieved from the constant oversight, caregiving, and the emotional strain of seeing your loved one deteriorate with each passing day.
As with most things that are emotionally and physically taxing, relief can set in when the hardship ends.
11 Tips for Managing Caregiver Guilt or Relief After a Loved One Dies
Feeling relief and guilt over the death of a loved one is not uncommon when you’ve been the person’s caregiver for an extended amount of time. These feelings may lead you to think that you're relieved that they died, but the reality is closer to you feeling relieved that there was an end to their suffering.
It’s easy to dwell on these feelings of guilt and to be consumed by them. If left unchecked, they can complicate your grief process and healing. Most caregivers struggle with these feelings, so rest assured that you’re not alone in your suffering. It helps to seek out others who’ve undergone a similar experience.
The following tips may help you manage your feelings of guilt or relief:
1. Seek guidance
Ordinarily, when someone is suffering through a prolonged illness, hospice will step in and provide end-of-life care and support to both the patient and their family. These services are provided to you beyond the death of your loved one and should be available to you at no cost.
The hospice chaplaincy team is available to help you cope with these feelings of guilt or relief. Bereavement aftercare is part of the services that you continue to have access to after the death of your loved one.
Overseeing the mental and spiritual care of the families affected by death is part of the overall hospice care plan. They help caregivers in the following ways:
- Reclaiming their emotional and spiritual identities
- Providing spiritual counsel
- Helping understand and process their grief
2. Tap into your support group
Your friends and family and the rest of your support network won’t know what you’re going through unless and until you tell them. Expect that not many people consider guilt and relief as emotions that you’ll likely experience after the death of a loved one. It’s difficult to understand these concepts if you’ve never been in a caregiver role.
Approach your support group with love and understanding as you talk with them about what you’ve been experiencing. You may find that among this circle of family and friends, more than one person has dealt with what you’re going through now. It may also provide comfort to them as well in being able to open up and share their experiences with you.
3. Ask for help
A caregiver is so accustomed to providing care and support to others that they sometimes forget how to ask for help themselves.
Caregiver burnout is a common occurrence that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ask your family and friends for the help and support that you need as you grapple with your feelings of guilt and relief.
You may need to ask for a time-out from all your other responsibilities so that you can process your feelings.
4. Make a list
Give yourself a break from feeling guilty over being relieved at no longer having to provide caregiver services. Make a list of how you helped each day provide the best loving care to your family and loved ones.
If you’ve blocked from your mind all of the responsibility a caregiver is tasked with, here is a brief list of some of the most basic duties:
- Scheduling doctor’s appointments
- Medication management and administration
- House cleaning
- Cooking and feeding
- Bathing and dressing
- Financial help or helping to pay their bills
- Household management
- Host/hostess to visitors
- Pet care
- Grocery and household shopping
5. Take a break
Finding peace after caregiving for a terminally ill loved one can seem out of reach for you. You may have suffered through months of emotional swings associated with tending to the needs of others, and now it’s your turn to take a break.
Experiencing caregiver burnout is quite common among those who’ve provided end-of-life care to others.
6. Process your grief
Taking the time to process your grief will help you understand the feelings of guilt and relief that you’ve been experiencing. There are different types of grief that may affect you at different times.
As a caregiver, you may also experience a delayed form of grief due to the sheer exhaustion of having to care for someone through their dying process. Give yourself time to allow the natural grieving process to sink in before trying to assess your feelings of guilt and relief.
As you enter the different stages of grief, you’ll become aware of other feelings and emotions that are also part of grieving and are also completely normal.
7. Read testimonials
Reading about others’ experiences and how they’ve come to terms with their feelings of guilt and relief can help you understand that you’re not alone. It’s important not to be so hard on yourself after having provided your loved one with the physical and emotional support they needed as they transitioned to the end of their life.
The time, emotional ups and downs, and the sacrifices you made during this time has undoubtedly taken a toll on your emotional and spiritual well-being.
Comparing your reactions to others is not the same. Their experience as compared to yours is different unless they’ve also provided caregiver support services to the person that died.
Meditation is another form of spiritual care for the caregiver that helps support you through your grief journey. It’s also a simple and effective way to improve your health and well-being. Through the practice of mindfulness, you can better cope with feelings of guilt and relief.
Meditation is the act of taking a time-out from the daily stressors of life and focusing on your mind, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It can be done anywhere and doesn’t require any special equipment. Simple and effective meditations focus on the breath. Find a quiet place to sit, or outside in nature, and just breathe. Focus on inhaling a slow, deep breath. Holding it till you count to three, and releasing it slowly to the count of three.
With time and practice, meditation can help relieve anxiety, stress, and mental and emotional burnout.
9. Focus on yourself
Practicing self-care as a caregiver of others sounds impossible, but it can be accomplished. By focusing on what happens after the death of your loved one, you’ll find that most of your time is yours again to take care of yourself and the things you need doing.
With caregiving for your loved one, you may have suffered from forms of sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, a lack of exercise, and the inability to make doctor’s appointments for your own healthcare.
Now that you have helped others ensure their comfort and care, it’s time to focus on yourself, your health, your emotional, physical, and mental well-being.
10. Enhance your spirituality
Enhancing your spirituality can relieve the feelings of guilt that you may have been experiencing. Not many people know what happens when you die. Like many others, you rely on your spiritual or religious upbringing and traditions to make sense of death and the dying process.
Spiritual beliefs surrounding death and those who’ve cared for the sick and dying may help you look at things from a different, more positive perspective.
11. Forgive yourself
Making peace and moving forward with your life after loss is sometimes difficult. Many emotions come in the way of finding hope and healing when you’re dealing with grief. Self-forgiveness is often one of the most difficult things to accomplish. It’s easier to forgive others than it is to forgive yourself.
When things seem unbearable, consider online therapy or grief counseling to help you through the toughest moments in your grief journey. A grief counselor can help you pinpoint why you may be finding it difficult to forgive yourself.
Feeling Relief After Your Loved One’s Death
There’s no shame in feeling relief over the death of a loved one whom you’ve provided the best loving care and support to during their end-of-life journey. Their time here has come to an end, and your new life is just beginning. Your feelings of relief are natural and nothing to be ashamed of.
If you're looking for more advice on the grieving process, read our guides on mourning vs. grief and free grief counseling.