Footstep 10

Moving forward when caring ends

Carer’s roles can come to an end when the family member or friend you look after no longer needs your care because they have recovered, moved to a residential or care home or have died.

Whatever the reason for the role ending you are may feel lost, disorientated, upset, relieved, guilty and any number of other emotions including grief.

When the role ends you will need to move forward at some point.

The following may give you some ideas to help you begin that journey...

1. Taking a break

First of all, some people can feel so exhausted with the amount they have given physically and emotionally that the only option is to “take a break”.

  • Taking a break could be as little as sitting in the garden or a park for 10 minutes just noticing the world around you.
  • It could be time at home with the doorbell unplugged and the phone off the hook to give you quiet time to recuperate.
  • It could be a weekend away or perhaps even a holiday with a friend.
  • It could be taking up a new activity, like joining a choir, a walking group, or learning another language.

Each of us needs to decide what we need for ourselves – and that can be really odd and rather scary when we have spent 24/7 considering somebody else’s needs first.

For carers whose family member or friend recovers, “taking a break” is likely to happen over several weeks, months or even years. For those where the role ends suddenly, the impact and need for breaks is more immediate.

2. Dealing with your emotions

There are no set stages for adjusting to a big emotional change, particularly a loss: there is no right way to grieve, although there are plenty of myths about it.

Because emotional adjustment does not follow a smooth process, various things can help you to look back over a month or six months and realise how things have changed:

  • A journal or diary, which can be audio, video, or written
  • Seeing friends you have not seen for a while and encouraging them to be honest with you
  • Tackling difficult tasks that you just cannot face when you feel low
  • Doing things you enjoyed together but then avoided when you stopped being together

All changes need adjustment. Even if the change is one you have hoped and planned for you won’t necessarily feel just relief. You have lost a role in which you felt valued and needed. It may feel strange to do things just for yourself, even little things like deciding when and what to eat rather than preparing a meal that you ate together.

But even if the change is not one that you wished for (for instance, the person you cared for has died, or has moved into 24-hour care) you are allowed to enjoy your freedom. It is not selfish, or wrong, or uncaring. Your needs have often taken second place, or been put aside completely, and now is the time to think about what you would like. You may want to make few changes, particularly at first; it is probably best not to make huge decisions early on but to leave your options open as you explore a different pattern of day-to-day life.

The days may seem empty without the tasks that you used to do as a carer. A few projects, activities that do not take long and are likely to be achieved to your satisfaction, rather than ones that are hard to learn and even harder to do well, may be helpful to provide a rhythm to the day.

Exercise

Exercise of any sort, whether at home to a video, a swim, or a local walk, helps both physical and mental health. If you feel depressed, you are more liable to become ill, so exercise is a real investment as well as a distraction, and it can be an opportunity to make new friends.

Routine

Routine can help – going to bed and getting up at your usual times, for instance. Radio, television, podcasts, films and books can provide company but may raise unexpected feelings or leave you in tears, which is normal but can feel very lonely.

You may dwell on whether you could have done something differently and wonder what an earth you will do with your life and the time you have available now.

Loneliness

Feeling lonely and isolation – not having anyone close to whom you can talk to freely – are bad for your mental and physical health. You may have old friends and contacts that you want to strengthen your relationship with, now that you have time. You may want to make new friends. It is easier to start a conversation when you are sharing something – a new activity, a neighbourhood, even a bus shelter in the rain – than not. All it needs is a way to meet others, and soon enough you will find like-minded people whose company you enjoy. So, thinking of ways that feel reasonably comfortable to you to meet other people is an important step.

3. Reconnecting with others

The physical and emotional demands of caring may leave you feeling that you lack energy to begin socialising with others again, or you may think “woohoo!” Each person’s needs are different, do whatever feels right for you.

Perhaps if you feel nervous about reconnecting, take one small step towards it, for example:

  • If you feel very isolated, you could find out what support your local carers' group offers to former carers
  • Make one telephone call a day or arrange a coffee with a friend once a week
  • Someone we know volunteered for two hours a week at a community garden. As well as developing a new interest she started to make one or two new friends.

Of course, you may feel you want to grab every invitation as quickly as you can. If you do, check in on your energy levels from time to time.

4. Moving forward

Some carers are able to plan for when their role draws to a close, for others it is like the “rug has been pulled from under their feet.” Whichever, experience is closer to yours, it maybe you need a bit of time to think and plan.

There may be a plethora of things to do, perhaps you need to sell the family home, move from one rented home to another, or look for work. The previous Footsteps may help.

It is hard for us to generalise as each of our situations is personal. Dee’s role as a carer came to an end quite suddenly both times; Karen’s has been more of a gradual process.

We both found it tough in our own ways with decisions to be made, changes to our lives, dealing with the loss of the role and new opportunities.

We have noticed how much we continue to process this and have done so with each other as we have written these 10 Footsteps.

We hope you find them helpful.

Resources

Learning4Living is an e-learning programme which provides a helpful starting point if you are wondering what skills you've gained from caring.

The introductory course encourages you to think about how these can add value in the community or workplace, and what you can do to make the most of your skills. It covers everything from communicating effectively to goal setting and includes a wide range of scenarios to suit people in different situations.

Finances – some practical matters, such as making sure you are claiming the right benefits for your situation now you are no longer caring, and dealing with any changes to your housing situation (if there are any), have to be dealt with fairly quickly.

To find out what you need to do, you could speak to other former carers on the Carers UK Forum:

Moving forward when caring ends: key ideas

  • When caring comes to an end carers often feel they need to “take a break”
  • Even if the change is one you hoped and planned for, you won’t necessarily feel just relief, as you've also lost a valued role
  • If the change is not one that you wished for, remember: it is not selfish or uncaring to enjoy your freedom
  • Reconnecting with others will be an important part of moving on