When we find ourselves in the role of caring for a loved one with a life limiting illness, we may lose touch with our own identity.
It can feel natural to put our loved one’s needs at the centre of everything we do. We might be supporting them to:
- Wash, dress and visit the bathroom
- Take their medications
- Attend medical appointments
- Access enjoyable activities
- Host visits from family and friends
However, this may lead to our own needs being neglected. Our priorities and time may seem to be taken over by what needs to be done for them.
Our role of caring will at some point come to an end, once our loved one dies. Our bereavement experience can feel so much tougher if we’ve lost touch with our own identity in the process of caring. One way of building some resilience in preparation for this bereavement is to continue with some form of activity whilst we’re caring, which in some way regularly connects us with our identity.
What activities have always been part of your identity? Here are some examples:
- Reading books or magazines
- Exercise such as swimming, running, playing football, yoga etc.
- Meeting with friends for a catch up
- Having a soak in the bath
- Walking in nature
- Booking a holistic therapy session
- Visiting the cinema or watching a film at home
- Doing something creative such as painting, drawing, crafting, writing etc.
- Going to the pub for a pint
When asked, many relatives who are caring for a loved one will say ‘I haven’t got time for myself’. I would argue that we need to make time for ourselves. Asking a relative, friend, neighbour or volunteer to take over our caring role on a regular basis gives us that time. We can then take a well-deserved break, which is essential for our own wellbeing. It also means we return to caring refreshed. This is particularly important the longer our caring input is needed.
As a result, we’re more resilient during our caring role and when our relative dies. Having an activity which strengthens our sense of identity gives us a continuity during caring and through bereavement.
One carer we supported chose to use the time our volunteer visit created to go swimming each week. She loved swimming and enjoyed the exercise as well as the time to herself. She came back refreshed and this helped her to continue to care for her husband. In this way, she managed to fulfil her husband’s wish to be cared for and die at home. She continued to swim after his death and this played an important part of adjusting to her change in circumstances.
What activities help you connect with yourself? Who can take up your caring role regularly whilst you do something just for you? For everything we do for our loved one and in the words of a very well-known beauty advert, we need to look after ourselves simply ‘because we’re worth it!!’.