How Family Caregivers Cope With Bereavement

by | Feb 9, 2021 | Featured Article | 0 comments

For family caregivers, losing a patient means losing family, and they too must deal with bereavement.

Every year, over two million Americans die, and 70% of these deaths are caused by chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and respiratory diseases. This means that these people likely underwent a certain period of time when family was responsible for their care. And for their respective family caregivers, the deaths of these people carry unique and significant effects. Loved ones and relatives always mourn the loss. For family caregivers, dealing with that loss might be different from those who have not spent time taking care of the patient. Today, we take a look at how family caregivers cope with grief.

Types of Loss and Grief.

There are several types of loss and grief concerning family caregivers. A family caregiver may experience one or two if not all of these types. By knowing and acknowledging these types of losses, we can understand a little more how family caregivers deal with bereavement. According to Family Caregiver Alliance, below are the types of loss and grief:

Chronic Illness and Loss.

This is a universal experience for many family caregivers and patients as well. Patients with chronic illness experience several losses before death. Patients and family caregivers deal with the loss of independence, loss of self-esteem, loss of control, and loss of future, to name a few. Ultimately, when the patient dies, these losses are often revisited during bereavement.

Ambiguous Loss.

Have you ever felt like someone is there, but that person is “not around” anymore. Family caregivers often experience this feeling when dealing with Alzheimer’s patients or those with dementia, traumatic brain injury, or a stroke. They are not the same people you used to interact with, and there is this sense of loss. For some, this might be the beginning of grieving and is often accompanied by hopelessness and anxiety.

Anticipatory Grief.   

This type of grief is pretty much related to ambiguous grief as family caregivers and relatives grieve for impending demise or loss of the person’s former self. Family and friends mourn the loss even before the patient’s death. This is common among chronic illness or terminal conditions. In a way, anticipatory grief also allows family and friends to prepare for the eventuality of losing the patient.

Grief at Death.

Death is always a sad, and universal feeling. People deal with death and bereavement differently. For some family caregivers, they may grieve longer than most. For others, the time spent with the patient was enough to prepare them for the eventuality of the loss. Hence, they easily cope up and have an easier time accepting the loss.

Death & Family Caregivers

Death is a natural phenomenon, and grief is the universal response to it. How we grieve for a loved one’s death varies, it can involve crying, loss or lack of sleep, loss of appetite, and depression. Some deal with grieve extremely and will result in drinking, isolation, panic, anger, and lack of self-control. The timeline also varies for family, relatives, and friends. Some move on easily, while others like to take their time mourning the death. Multiple studies show that family caregivers are at risk of poor bereavement outcomes. Many suffer from mental distress, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. This fact is related to a high mortality rate among family caregivers taking care of patients with chronic or terminal diseases, especially those who do not use hospice services. Economics also plays a significant role as family caregivers with lower income and lower education is likely to suffer depression and complicated grief.

All people grieve and undergo a phase of mourning. However, for intense grief like most family caregivers suffer, they usually last three months to a year. Manner of death and other circumstances may also contribute and further extend the grieving period even up to two years or more. These are often accompanied or divided through phases such as denial, anger, guilt, despair, anxiety, and emptiness.

Acceptance and Coping

Like everyone, eventually, family caregivers will have to accept and cope with the loss and death of a loved one. Sooner or later, he or she has to get up and get back to a normal life. For some, it may take years, for some a short amount of time. In fact, there are instances where professional intervention is needed. Support and comfort is something that all caregivers must receive from family and friends after the loss. This will help ease up the burden and bereavement. Reducing the caregiver’s anxiety during grief can be applied before or after the loved one’s death. Interventions include hospice care, behavioral and pharmacologic treatment of depression and anxiety, and spiritual counseling. Family caregivers carry a lot of burdens, and it is during bereavement that we must show our support and appreciation.


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