One of the challenges facing residents of Cedar Rapids or elsewhere who are staying close to someone as they go through hospice care is what happens after they’re gone.
No matter what their loved one believes or where they hope they’re going based on their personal philosophies or faith system, it still means they’re no longer part of this world. This usually raises the question, “Now what?”
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice are familiar with this situation. We’ve worked with all sorts of clients in Eastern Iowa over the years. This usually means working closely with friends and family who try to be around as much as possible especially in someone’s final days.
This may mean that they serve in a caregiver role, or maybe just that they try to be present for companionship and comfort. We love seeing this type of support and our clients do too.
But we’re also aware of what happens after the person passes away and all the rituals and paperwork surrounding death are done, such as funeral services and gatherings of loved ones.
Many people are unsure of what to do next with their lives. They certainly want to do something to preserve someone’s legacy and make sure their life has meaning. While this is a great wish, it’s often light on any specific action plans.
Or, in some cases, they may have put their life on hold to be present, so they may have to consider if they want to go back to what was before or if they could even do so.
Some employers may have fairly liberal family leave or bereavement processes, which require an employer to hold your job so it could be fairly easy to return. There are also some state and federal policies in place that can be used for paid or partially paid leave for a certain amount of time if you need to step away to provide care to a family member.
Or, in some cases, someone may leave their jobs permanently due to an unknown amount of time being a caregiver, such as someone with dementia or slow-acting cancers and cancer treatments. The person they’re providing care for may slowly decline but still need help.
They could also use the opportunity to try something new. Maybe they’ve been inspired to try a new career or at least a new employer. Maybe what they were doing before isn’t as interesting or meaningful anymore after spending time with someone at the end of their life.
In this case, they’re faced with choices of where and how to proceed.
Figuring out a direction forward could also be challenging especially while doing so while dealing with the stress of grief as well.
While some may have gone through this process as someone was dying, others deal with it afterward, which means it’s normal to think about anger, bargaining, denial, depression, and acceptance. There’s no timeline on any of these stages either, and some may even repeat.
Ultimately many end up feeling good about the situation. The person they’ve spent time with is done being in pain. Their caregiving role is done, for better or worse, which can provide a sense of freedom.
But this feeling of freedom and relief sometimes is accompanied by less positive feelings, like guilt about feeling good when people, including yourself some days, should be grieving and feeling emotional.
Trying to balance these feelings can be a challenge that could continue for months or years, especially if you lost someone close to you.
Some options to help can include:
- Finding a support group. Your community may have a group of fellow survivors who meet regularly. They’ll be familiar with what the loss you’re feeling.
- Find a place to make your experiences into a positive by helping others going through the hospice process. Though what you went through was unique, your story might help someone going through their own difficult time. Hospice programs likely welcome your enthusiasm and experience, especially if you have other professional skills to bring to the table.
- Try a new career in health care. If you enjoyed providing care to a loved one, you may want to consider doing this professionally. The health sector is one of the fastest-growing industries so there’s plenty of opportunities for someone to go into nursing or medicine. Your personal experience as a loved one went through hospice, even if it had difficult moments, could be invaluable for someone learning the ins and outs of modern medicine.
- Share what you’re feeling. Many therapists suggest that a good way of dealing with something difficult is to write it down and get it out. It could be a private journal, or it could be a letter to someone who understands and cares for you. Maybe even it could be a book of everything you went through.
As a new year begins, it’s an opportunity to start thinking about these “what now?” questions as you grieve what was.