Purpose In Later Life

After caregiving

By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA,MS, BS/BA, C

Caregivers have a definite and measurable purpose when the individuals for whom they care remain alive.  After caregiving, many caregivers feel lost and without purpose.  This often occurs because the caregiver being dedicated gives up their entire life:  employment, friends, social activities, hobbies and more to devote 24 hours a day to care for a loved one.  While this is admirable it is not always best for the caregiver in the long run.  Re-building a life after caregiving can be very, very difficult depending on the time period the caregiver has been isolated in the role of caregiving.

Many seniors look back 6-12 months in their lives and see how much their everyday activities have changed, especially those who have had losses in physical or mental abilities.  Others who have lost spouses have difficulty adjusting to being alone.  Some thrive in spite of all of their difficulties. Greta in spite of macular degeneration,  hearing loss and severe physical disabilities still participates in American Legion meetings, makes care packages for the homeless and bakes  cookies for the local police and fire departments.  She does this with the assistance and support of in home caregivers.  Greta also recently began journaling again and feels that she has a purpose in life again despite being without her husband.

Purpose In Later LifeAnother client, Ed, was an active sportsman until last spring when he had a stroke that left him weakened on one side of his body and unable to speak.  His wife passed away six months earlier and he had a supportive daughter who filled the role of caregiver.  Ed worked hard each day doing physical and speech therapy in order to regain as much ability as possible. But, after six months of hard work with little progress, he simply gave up.  One afternoon he told his professional caregiver he was going to have dinner with a friend and that she should not return until 6 p.m.  When the caregiver returned, Ed’s dog was frantically running in the yard.  She noticed a small red light shining from within the garage.  Opening the door she found Ed sitting in the front seat of his car, sledge hammer pressed against the gas pedal, lifeless.

What makes some individuals resilient to survive the loss of a spouse or physical abilities due to illness?  We see the able and not so able all of our lives, from children born with birth defects to young athletes and older adults who compete in the Special Olympics.  A positive attitude and sense of thankfulness for what we do have is a large factor in the attitude we have toward our own lives.  We fail to succeed only when we stop trying.

The ability to contribute and connect is also an important factor contributing to an attitude of purpose.  If we can continue to remain socially connected with people, with groups and with causes, we tend to wonder less about why we’re still here and desire to continue to be active and interested in live.  Many individuals need a purpose or a reason to get out of bed every morning, whether that purpose is a pet that needs to go outside or a friend expecting a phone call, the act provides that little spark to keep the heart and mind going for one more day.

© 2012, 2013, Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

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