Caregiver Empty Nesting After the Need: Five Ways to Get Back to Yourself

Empty nesting isn’t just for the parents of college students anymore. Caregiver empty nesting is an increasingly common occurrence that refers to the feelings a long-term caregiver experiences when her loved one is gone or no longer needs daily support. Author and speaker Joni Aldrich has been there—more than once. Read on for her firsthand experience as an empty nest caregiver.

With the shift away from less personal and more expensive hospitals and long-term care facilities, millions of people are caregiving for loved ones in their homes for as little as several days to a decade or longer. Yes, it’s initially an adjustment to set your daily clock around the care receiver. Parts of your own life must be put on hold, but soon your schedule as a caregiver becomes the new normal, and you begin to make and cherish new memories. And then one day, whether your loved one is gone or simply no longer needs daily support, caregiving is no longer necessary. For many people, the transition back to “normal” life is unexpectedly difficult, especially if grief is added into the mix.

The fact is, caregiving does turn your life upside down—in some cases, you may have even given up your career and residence. Understandably, it can be very hard to fill the emptiness that’s left behind once you are no longer devoting your time and energy to daily caregiving.

As you pick yourself up and regain the foundation of your own life, here are some suggestions to help you feel better if you are a caregiving empty nester:

Empty Nest Caregiver?

Give Yourself Some Love

Caregivers are so used to taking care of others that it’s not uncommon for them to neglect themselves and their own needs—and it can be difficult to begin focusing on yourself again once you’re an empty nester. Now that caregiving isn’t part of your daily schedule, take time to catch up on your needs. Schedule that wellness physical. Return to a well-balanced exercise routine (to help shed those extra caregiving pounds brought on by a stressful situation). Concentrate on returning to a healthy diet. Set aside time for a massage or meditation and get the haircut you’ve been putting off.

Give Others You Love Some Love

If you don’t have time to devote to yourself while caregiving, you certainly don’t have as much time as you’d like to spend with others you care about. Even though your intentions weren’t bad, your relationships with family members, friends, children, and even pets might have been somewhat strained through neglect. Now it’s time to rebuild those bonds—no excuses. You need comfort and company, so have a family and friends get-together. Ask your pals to join a bowling league or book club with you. Become active in your favorite charity. Walk, brush, and love up on your pets—and catch up on veterinarian appointments, too. Just don’t overcompensate and wear yourself out!

Allow Yourself to Grieve and Get Counseling

You may be grieving the loss of not only someone you loved, but also a daily way of life that you have become accustomed to. That’s definitely an emotional double whammy. Taking the time to get group or individual counseling is very important. You may find that the best option for you is a combination of both. Counseling is available from many resources, such as religious facilities, the patient’s medical facility, the community, your local hospice organization, or professional services.

Focus on Stabilizing Your Future

When you are involved in caregiving, many other aspects of your own life can get out of balance. It may not have been a priority then, but getting back to financial peace and life stability is important now. While it can be overwhelming in the big picture, take the “one step at a time” approach to reestablishing your footing. Prioritize your responsibilities. Which bills need to be paid first? Do you need to go back to work? Is there a financial planner available to help you?

Volunteer—It’s Good for the Soul

As you navigated the many twists and turns that cropped up on your caregiving path, you learned things that can be invaluable to others. While it’s important to give yourself some time before you jump into volunteering, helping others is one of the most fulfilling gifts you can offer.

It’s important to acknowledge that, as a person who has fulfilled a purpose and devoted time to becoming a caregiver, you can be affected by your newly empty nest. Once the demands on your time and energy have been taken away, it’s important for you to acknowledge that you have served a purpose, and that now it’s time to move on, regroup, and rebuild. Don’t expect this process to be speedy—but if you approach it with self-awareness and patience, you will once again achieve a full, balanced life.

Source: Joni Aldrich believes that she has been preparing to write The Saving of Gordon and The Losing of Gordon for most of her life. As a child, she wrote dramatic poetry. Before college, she worked at a newspaper. In her professional career, she has worked in analysis, documentation, communications, and public speaking. She feels it is her destiny to relay this true story to readers in a way that will help them in their own difficult trials. Joni is also the author of The Cancer Patient W-I-N Book: Our Cancer Fight Journal. For more information, please visit The Cancer Life Line and The Losing of Gordon.