How to recognize and cope with caregiver’s grief and loss

Caregiving may begin in many different ways, but the ending is always the same: the loss of the care receiver. And with that loss often comes grief, which can be experienced not only by the caregiver but also other family members and friends. The following information may help you deal with the grieving process in yourself and others.

Are you grieving? Signs of grief


·         Dry mouth.

·         Tight throat or a lump in the throat.

·         Shortness of breath.

·         Tight chest.

·         A feeling of ‘hollowness’ or ‘emptiness.’

·         Changes in appetite.

·         Nausea.

·         Diarrhea.

·         Indigestion.

·         Lack o energy even after sleeping.

·         A feeling of weakness or faintness.

·         Muscle weakness.

·         General achiness.

·         Headache.

·         Excessive sensitivity to noise.


·         Not being able to maintain normal everyday activity.

·         Not being able to make decisions.

·         Lack of motivation.

·         Restlessness.

·         Inability to focus.

·         Forgetfulness.

·         Insomnia.

·         Hypersomnia.

·         Unexpected urge to cry.

·         Not being able to stop crying.

·         Social withdrawal.


·         Guilt.

·         Shock.

·         Numbness.

·         Anxiety.

·         Panic.

·         Extreme sadness.

·         Helplessness.

·         Powerlessness.

·         Detachment.

·         Indifference.

·         Anger.

·         Relief.

·         Loneliness.


·         Denial.

·         Dreaming about death.

·         Not being able to concentrate.

·         Going over the circumstances of death again and again.

·         Yearning for ‘good times.’


The grieving process comprises four basic steps:

1.       Accepting the reality of the loss.

2.       Experiencing the pain associated with death instead of ignoring it.

3.       Adjusting to the changes resulting from death by learning new skills or assuming new roles.

4.       Moving on by reinvesting emotional energy in other people or activities.

How to cope with grief

If left to its own devices, the caregiver’s mind will automatically trigger certain coping mechanisms such as disbelief/denial, disorganization and dependence, and intellectualization and rationalization.

·         Disbelief/denial. The bereaved person limits their awareness of the reality of the situation.

·         Disorganization and dependence. A confusion period during which the grieving person may feel disconnected from the ordinary goings-on of daily life.

·         Intellectualization and rationalization. The person either tries to learn as much as possible about the circumstances that led to the loss, or explains away the loss saying such things as “he/she is better off,” or “he/she suffered so much.”

However, there are more proactive and positive alternatives with which to cope with loss, for instance:

·         Accept your emotions.

·         Express your feelings.

·         Don’t expect grief to go away overnight.

·         Do not hurry yourself or let others hurry you.

·         Maintain your daily routine.

·         Bring children (if any) into the grieving process.

·         Do not isolate yourself.

·         Maintain contact with friends.

·         Learn to ask for and accept help from others.

·         Join a support group.

·         Consider counseling.

·         Treat yourself well.

·         Do not resort to drugs or alcohol.

·         Do not make important decisions during the period of grieving.

·         Learn from pain, grief, and loss.

How to help others cope with grief

If you though your role as a caregiver ended with the death of your loved one, you may be in for a surprise. Others may need your help as they deal with loss.

·         Ask the person open-ended questions to determine how they are feeling.

·         Ask them to identify certain needs they may have and that you might be able to help them with.

·         Remember that the healing process is gradual.

·         Hug them or put an arm around their shoulders.

·         Encourage them to talk about their feelings.

·         Do not give advice unless asked to do so.

·         Do not judge their feelings.

·         Do not provide insincere reassurances or platitudes.

·         Listen to them patiently even if they repeat themselves.

·         Acknowledge their feelings and don’t try to change how they feel.

·         Calmly accept anger, hostility, sorrow, and other difficult emotions.

·         Help them direct those emotions at something besides themselves or other people.

·         Try to explore any guilt feelings.

·         Do not act as if the loss is replaceable.

·         Empathize but do not identify with grief, since this is an individual experience.

·         Encourage them to engage in a constructive activity related to the loss so as a means of positive commemoration.

·         Remind them to exercise, eat and sleep well.

·         Do not force your religious beliefs onto them.

·         Offer constant support in the ensuing weeks and months.

·         Keep in touch via phone calls, e-mails, texts, etc.

·         Establish limits and try not to cross them.

As far as children go, remember the following:

·         Always tell them the truth.

·         Provide love and reassurance.

·         Explain things as soon as possible.

·         Make sure they know the loss is not their fault.

Related: And I guess that’s why they call it the caregiver blues