On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

I recently came across an article in the New York Times originally posted on January 30 titled “For some Caregivers, the Trauma Lingers.” It was written by Judith Graham, and it’s about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in caregivers. Graham says there has been little research on the topic which, she thinks, means it has been overlooked or discounted. She goes on to list some of the typical symptoms of PTSD: flashbacks, feelings of numbness, anxiety, guilt, dread, depression, irritability, apathy, and tension among others.

Life after caregiving is a mixed bag of positive and negative emotions, sometimes all mixed up together. There’s relief that your loved one is no longer suffering and that your long, difficult task is finished, but these same feelings often produce guilt. Sometimes there is a euphoric feeling of freedom, but there also can be a numbness and a sense of purposelessness until you reorient yourself into a new direction that doesn’t include caregiving. My experiences with Mom and Dad were heart-wrenching and difficult, and even though I don’t believe I have experienced anything close to PTSD, I’ve gone through a lot of disturbing emotions. I’ve even had flashbacks of a sort, usually in the form of dreams.

Dad’s been gone almost two years, and Mom died almost a year ago, but I’ve been dreaming about them quite a bit lately. Wednesday night, I had a long involved dream about Dad. It started out with me riding behind him on a Vespa-style scooter. That was traumatic enough considering Dad’s driving habits the last few years of his life, but then we got lost. We ended up in a mall-like area with lots of ramps and stairs, and we had to abandon the scooter. The steps were too narrow front to back for the feet of the elderly and the clumsy, and the inevitable happened – Dad took a nose dive. He was alive but incapacitated, and I spent the rest of the dream looking for someone to help me. At some point, I realized I was dreaming, so I sat down and waited to wake up.

In the article, Graham recounts the story of a doctor who sought treatment after a horrific end of life experience with her mother. One of the things that drove her to seek help was terrible nightmares about her mom. My dreams aren’t what I’d call nightmares, but they’re disturbing. I appreciated this article and decided to share it, as Graham says, “so that other caregivers who may have experienced overwhelming emotional reactions that feel like post-traumatic stress realize they are not alone.”



Comments on: "The Stress Doesn’t Always Go Away When a Loved One Dies | by Linda Brendle" (8)

  1. Linda,

    Once again you’ve touched upon a bone of truth. PTSD had been attributed to our folks in uniform for the most part, but a lot of people that have been in a stressful situation can suffer from it.

    Your written piece hints that you may have a slight case, but you stating that you realized you were dreaming and “sat down to wait it out”, shows that you are in pretty good shape.

    The dreams may continue, and the thoughts of doubt will more than likely always be there, but know this; as a woman of faith, you did all you could at the time.

    I have a bit of PTSD from some of the work I performed several years ago. I understand and I use each dream, each moment of doubt, and each thought as a building block towards my growth in life. It isn’t always pleasant, but nothing is put upon us that we cannot handle…

    It’s people like you and your son that are bringing me back to reality. I thank you!


    • Charlie, thank you so much for your thoughtful and encouraging comment. My head knows I did all I could, and most of the time my heart knows it too, but there’s still a bit of that caregiver guilt and doubt that never goes away. But I believe God wastes nothing, and if my writing helps sweet people like you, I’m grateful.

  2. Aunt Linda, you help, you encourage, and you inspire… Keep going girl… I’m sure others agree.

  3. Linda, oddly enough I have a reoccuring dream about my grandmother that ends up in a mall as well. Except she gets on an escalator that I know, and she doesn’t seem to, at the top there’s nothing and she’s going to die. No amount of trying to explain or pull her away can move her and she too eventually goes over the edge.
    I wake up and it’s disturbing but I know it’s just my mind trying to work things out. Just in my case my grandmother’s getting close to the end.
    Don’t let your dreams trouble you. I can’t imagine someone who could have done more for their parents than you did. You were kind, caring, moved your life and you deserve the freedome you have now. Think about writing and what you’ll plat in your garden this spring and other things that you have to do now that makes you happy. I’m sure your parents would want that for you

    • Krista, it’s funny but since I wrote this post I haven’t had any more dreams. We’ll see if that keeps up.

      Thanks for your encouraging words about my caregiving. Most of the time I know that, at least in my head, but sometimes my heart forgets. Then when I come across an article like the one I referenced, I feel like it’s important to share my feelings so others will know they’re not alone.

      I have been doing some unusual writing. I have a friend that wants me to help her write a movie screenplay. So far I’ve written the scene outline, and she seems to like it. I don’t imagine anything will come of it, but it’s an interesting experience.

      As for my garden, I already have several things going – it gets warm earlier in Texas than in Maryland. I put some little lettuce bedding plants in Saturday, and they’re not too happy. I’ve covered them with dead leaves, hoping that will keep them warm enough during the nights that they won’t die. We’ll see.

      I’m glad to see you’re getting back to your writing. Best of luck with that, with your caregiving, and with your health issues.


  4. Hi Linda!
    Thank You for bringing attention to this matter, and thank you for posting the link to the article from the NY Times; I could see myself so clearly in that article and in your post. When we take on the role of caregiver, we just jump right in not thinking or worrying what is going to happen to us in the process. Then all of a sudden, the caregiving experinece ends as we know it, and there is nothing that we can do about it. Its a difficult adjustment that is equally as hard to prepare for because of the unknow element to the process.
    All my best to you!

    • You’re quite welcome, Chris. I think it is so important for caregivers to share information, because most of us are learning as we go and don’t know what to expect. I think one of the hardest parts of caregiving is the unknown element. You can’t make plans for your future, not knowing how long you will be a caregiver, and you can’t even grieve the loss because it is ongoing. Anyway, I’m glad you found it helpful as your information is always helpful to others.

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