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The Importance of Grief Therapy for Ex-Caregivers


Fifteen years ago, my mother died after an emergency radical colonoscopy. Her body rejected the surgery causing an infection to develop. She drifted into a coma; she breathed with the aid of a mechanical ventilator.

On the third night as my mother lay in the ICU, I drove home from the hospital feeling worried and exhausted. I went to bed and fell into a deep sleep only to awaken abruptly and sit up in bed with a feeling of trepidation. I became startled by the sound of the phone ringer. The nurse said that my mother had had a fatal stroke.

By the time I was twenty-five, my mother appeared to be frail. She walked with a limp because of a fall sixteen years earlier when she fractured her leg in several places. I was more than a part-time caregiver meeting the emotional and physical needs of my mother. I learned to install ceiling fans, fix plumbing issues, and repair drywall.

The death of my mother left a void in my life. Her absence created an emptiness in me and an internal struggle with my sense of self.

I remember my inability to stop the tears and sobbing as emotion overcame me. The setting could be a crowded grocery store or alone driving or walking. During the fourth incident, my intuition recognized the emotion as grief.


An internet query returned many results. Only one or two were free grief counseling services. I called one of the listings and hit pay-dirt. I explained my situation. I received confirmation that my symptoms sounded a lot like emotion of grief. I recall I got an appointment that same week in the evening.

The idea of telling a stranger about my life and the family dynamic was daunting. As a child, I was ultra-polite and knew to place the feelings of others before my own. The therapist was a talented listener. She inherently knew that I would fill her silence with my story.

I traveled back in time to review my childhood. I was angry with the injustice of emotional abandonment. My mother graduated Summa Cum Laude on a scholarship. She married , had four children, and became a disappointed housewife. My mother was a closet alcoholic who doctor shopped for medication to achieve an altered state. As I discussed my mother, It became plain to me that she had also been emotionally abandoned in life.

My older sister developed an emotional problem when she was a toddler. Every day was a torment while I waited for the verbal and physical abuse. After college, my mother was spent a year as a Novice in a Benedictine convent. She expected the personal sacrifice would bring about the miraculous conversion of her grifter father. Her instruction about my sister was to pray to a variety of saints to fix my sister. The way we lived made no sense.

There were many layers to our family dysfunction. I will another example of taking care of our elderly grandmother, my mother's mother, who disliked me and three siblings. She had a bell and when she rang the bell I waited on her like a little servant. My siblings opted out.


I developed an emotional problem because of the loss of my mother and my caregiver status. I sought help and found a free counseling service. I count this decision as one of the best I have ever made.

You have likely heard the phrase "What You Do Isn't Who You Are." For me, the role of caregiver was a big part of who I became. Losing the role was almost equal to the demand of the role. Grief therapy was a gift that allowed me to review my role as a caregiver and my relationship with my mother. It showed me a path to regain my sense of self.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Sharon R Hill