Carole Carson: Filling the void post-caregiving |

Carole Carson: Filling the void post-caregiving

Those of us who’ve been caregivers know how completely the role takes over our lives. The unrelenting demands of caregiving take a tremendous emotional and physical toll. And if that weren’t enough, carrying the load can often exacerbate our own medical problems.

The upside, however, is the deeply satisfying experience of ministering to the needs of someone we love until the end of their days. The daily demands, while challenging to meet, give purpose and meaning to our lives. We are enriched by the experience far beyond what we give to our loved one.

But the day finally arrives when our caregiving duties end. What then?


In and of itself, the loss of a loved one is hard. But if we were a caregiver, added to the pain is our loss of purpose — even our sense of identity.

Judy Tatelbaum, writing in the Hospice Foundation of America newsletter, explains: “The aftermath can be a very difficult time that leaves us feeling lost, lonely, and useless. We may not feel grounded without that important function of taking care of another in our lives. … The future may look bleak or even empty.”

Making our way through this period of despair, however, ultimately leads to new possibilities. Slowly, we begin to realize that while a chapter of our life has ended, new chapters remain to be written. In time, if we’re lucky, we find that mixed in with the feelings of loss are the stirrings of prospects for new adventures.

I’m convinced, though, that it isn’t possible to go directly from the sorrow of loss to the joyfulness of new possibilities. The road after the loss of a loved one is bumpy and filled with potholes as far as the eye can see. Although barely navigable at the beginning, the road seems to get smoother and easier to travel over time.

However difficult, creating a new life for ourselves can’t be avoided. Change is required, even demanded of us.

But the task of making so many changes — if tackled in its entirety — can be overwhelming. Taking small steps, rather than giant leaps, is the best solution for many of us.


But clearly, I don’t follow my own advice. I took a giant step.

As some readers know, following my husband’s death a year ago, I sold my house, rid myself of possessions and moved to France. In the space of a 14-hour flight, the wonderful friends, familiar scenes, favorite restaurants and frequent walks on the canal near my rural home disappeared.

In their place came the inescapable demands of learning to function in an urban environment where I did not speak the language. By moving halfway around the world, I forced myself to forge a new life, a new identity.

But as I’ve discovered, a change in geography doesn’t mean I could escape the emotional work required to make the transition from caregiver to adventurer. On the contrary, on any given day, I alternate between despair and delight, from a sense of frustration to a sense of accomplishment, or from a fear of the future to an eager anticipation of what’s next.


Like others before me and those who will follow, I am learning by living. I take comfort in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself . . . ‘I can take the next thing that comes along.’”

We can be sure that as long as we are alive, “the next thing” will come along. And the stronger we get, the more confident we can be in our ability to face whatever the future holds.

Carole Carson, Montpellier, France, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact her at

Carole Carson

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