Day after day, more people in the U.S. are adding the title “caregiver” to the already long list of paid and unpaid jobs that they do. According to the most recent AARP report of Caregiving in the US, in 2015, 39.8 million Americans were providing care for an adult. 34. 2 million of them were unpaid caregivers, usually family members and friends. That’s close to 86%. Professional caregivers make up the remaining 14%. But no matter who the caregiver is, all of those providing care know that caregiving can be both rewarding and emotionally draining. This is particularly true when a beloved client or family member, dies.
Whether connected through blood, friendship or professionally, all caregivers at one time or another experience a painful loss. In the column she writes for AgingCare.com, eldercare consultant, Carol Bradley Bursack, writes, “Regardless of whether a caregiver is a paid professional, a family caregiver, or someone who is both, any person who provides care for vulnerable people they have come to know and care about is going to struggle as they witness the sickness and death of these individuals.”
Professional caregivers may not share a lifetime of history with their clients, but the care that they provide creates an intimacy and in the best caregiving situations, a connection is made between caregiver and client and a positive relationship is formed. Still, professional caregivers can go home after a shift while the family caregiver cannot. “Professional caregivers work long shifts, but they do eventually have a chance to go home and, theoretically, shelve their work until the next shift. If they didn’t develop some detachment skills, they couldn’t keep going back to face the sickness and inevitable death day after day,” Ms. Bursack writes.
It is expected and understood that a family caregiver will experience grief and loss when caregiving ends. To help them through the grieving process they can turn to other family members and support or bereavement groups. But what about the professional caregiver? In Caregivers Have Feelings, Too: How to Cope When a Beloved Client Dies, Geriatric Care Manager Deborah Fins writes, “When a loved one dies, family members aren’t the only people who grieve. Caregivers, too, can experience a profound sense of loss for someone they spent many hours supporting and tending. From private aides to Geriatric Care Managers, those who devote their careers to helping ailing individuals are often deeply affected by a client’s death.”
It is important for professional caregivers to acknowledge the sadness and feelings of loss they may experience when a client, with whom they had formed an attachment, passes away. It can be helpful for them to talk to colleagues or friends about their client and share positive memories and stories of their time together. In Professional Caregiver Grief: The Hidden Loss for Senior Caregivers, Easy Living, a home care agency in Florida wrote, “Naturally, when a client dies (or perhaps the relationships ends if the elder client moves) a caregiver experiences grief. While we acknowledge the grief of family and friends, we don’t talk much about the grief involved in professional caregiving.
“As a home caregiver, it is important to acknowledge this grief. The job can be stressful and unacknowledged grief and loss can build up to add to caregiver burnout. There is a term, “bereavement overload” which refers to the effect of multiple losses, often with little time in between for a grieving process. In one study done of professional caregivers in a long-term care program (Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, September 2005), 72% of the caregivers were experiencing grief symptoms; those experiencing multiple symptoms had generally experienced more patient deaths and were closer to the patient or had worked with him/her longer.”
Family Resource Home Care was created to serve the needs of our clients. But caring for our caregivers has also become an important component of what we do. We recognize that even when the caregiver is a professional, the death of a beloved client can bring with it sadness and grief; and when that happens, the caregiver will need an outlet. At Family Resource Home Care, our staffing supervisors are always available to caregivers to listen, to talk about their feelings, and help them process the loss.