Prominent in the book “When a Spouse Dies”, written by family therapist, Barbara R. Wheeler, is the quote “Caring about his joy, didn’t end mine” (49). Because of the severity of the disease or injury present in your caregiving, both your love and your grief must be reconciled. The notion advanced by Dr. Wheeler is a substantial start. Caring for another should not detract from the joy that ought to come from doing so. While for some caregivers that thought may seem unrealistic or even unavailable, the display of tender care should not detract from any of your end-of-life considerations. Joy often can be found at the conclusion of such difficult circumstances.


What Causes Grief: Don't think this one applies yet? Think again. Although most people link grief with death, anticipatory grief is a similar emotion felt by caregivers who are coping with a loved ones’ long-term chronic illness, especially when there are clear losses of ability (as in dementia) or when the diagnosis is almost certainly terminal.


Risks of Grief: "Long good-byes" can trigger guilt as well as sadness if one mistakenly believes that it's inappropriate to grieve someone still alive. Mourning the loss of a beloved companion is also a risk factor for depression. It is okay to grieve, but plan to be over your grief at some pre-determined time. It shouldn’t drag on.


What You Can Do - Know that your feelings are normal and as painful as "real" (postmortem) grief. Allow yourself to feel sadness and express it to your loved one as well as to be supportive of others; pasting on a happy face belies the truth and can be frustrating to the person who knows he or she is ill or dying. Make time for yourself so that you're living a life outside of caregiving that will support you both now and later. (25)


Below you will find a woman who has lost her husband after many years of medical struggle, and still feels the pangs of her deep love for him, but has found a way to cope:

…“My love for him was so great that even the thought of him being mistreated or not cared for properly sent me into a furious rage. This should show you that if he ever loved you, your abilities and complications should not make him care for you less. Now I fought for Gary with everything that I had and cared for him to the best of my abilities until October 6, 2016, when my Lord  determined that it was time for him to take care of Gary because he needs me else where. My heart breaks for him daily.”(1a) 


What Are the Stages of Grief? - Your feelings may happen in phases as you come to terms with your loss. You can’t control the process, but it’s helpful to know the reasons behind your feelings. Doctors have identified five common stages of grief:

  1. Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defense mechanism.

  2. Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings are likely to later turn into anger. You might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.

  3. Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.

  4. Depression: Sadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life.  Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.

  5. Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life. Every person goes through these phases in his or her own way. You may go back and forth between them, or skip one or more stages altogether. Reminders of your loss, like the anniversary of a death or a familiar song, can trigger the return of grief. (38)

Final Thoughts -  Every person goes through these phases in his or her own way. You may go back and forth between them, or skip one or more stages altogether. In the book mentioned above, Dr. Wheeler, the author, proudly spoke about her devotion to her dying husband by offering, “I did it for love not duty.” (49) Again, viewing the big picture, the affection of a loved one, could and should supersede all other considerations. Although it may come with difficulty, love trumps duty. Love will sustain you. Love can bring you peace and serenity if you will let it, both now and after the end of life of a loved one. The gift of love given now, may prevent looking back with guilt or sorrow.