Grieving Your Old Life (Episode 71)

Did you know it’s totally normal for family caregivers to feel grief over the way your life used to look? Missing something that’s gone is just grief, and it doesn’t make you a bad person!  Join host in this episode Kay Coughlin to explore this sensitive and somewhat taboo topic. As always, no judgment and no guilt.

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Grieving your old life (episode 71)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me who want to get some rest and feel less lonely. I taught myself how to navigate all of my responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can set boundaries, have self-compassion and prioritize myself so that my needs get met too. And that’s what I help my clients do also. And if we can do it, I know you can, too.

This is episode 71.

Hi there. So I have to admit, as I get started on this recording today, this is hard for me. I have been putting off recording this episode. In fact, as soon as I knew that this episode was in the works, as soon as the idea came to me, I thought, oh, that’s such a great idea. Everybody needs to hear about this.

And then the reality of putting an outline down on paper and filling in what I wanted to say, and then actually sitting down and talking about it. It really hit me. This has been a hard one.

Grief is a hard topic to talk about. You know, I’m not exactly a grief coach. I do a lot of that in my work, but it’s, it’s not something that I would say I do every single day. It’s hard, you know, and I do have some training in this and it’s, it’s still just, it kind of leaves a pit in my stomach to even think about talking about something as big as grief and the idea of grieving your old life, which I know is kind of a taboo topic.

And this came up for me because I have been personally working through a lot of my own grief lately about a number of things, but then I’ve also been hearing about it from a lot of my clients.

In my case, what’s going on is that my family is doing some routine paperwork, just some legal paperwork and doing some of that means taking my dad’s name off of some of our legal documents. And it’s, as I say, it’s all routine.

Now, my dad died back in 2014. He actually died in March of 2014 and that’s eight years ago. And I have been really surprised at how hard it hit me to process losing him all over again. It’s hard now for me, as I’m sitting here trying to talk about it. And so I know that’s really the classic kind of grief that we think about, and that’s the grief of losing a person or maybe a relationship or a job, something like that.

And at the same time this has been going on, I’ve been feeling this really weird sense of being trapped. I mean, in the sense that I’m a bit trapped in my family caregiver responsibilities, I’ve been feeling this. I mean, I guess that’s a longing for, ah, for some travel and some adventure and doing things again. Without a whole bunch of planning in advance and without having to manage a million moving parts all at once.

And I realized that what’s been happening for me lately is as I’ve been processing my grief over my dad is that’s been really fresh for me again lately. It’s kind of opened the door to some other thoughts and feelings of grief that I didn’t know were even there.

And that’s why I want to talk about that today in this episode, grieving your old life. Because, you know, because of my work, I’m pretty in tune to stuff like this. And this really surprised me that this has been under the surface brewing, I think for a while for me. So let’s just talk about.

Now I do know that grief or maybe grieving your old life more specifically is something that a lot more people can relate to now because of the pandemic that we’ve been in for over two years now. And a lot of things have changed for people. There’s a lot of our old life that it seems like we’re never going to get back to in a lot of ways, the world isn’t the same and can’t be the same. So that’s something that a lot of us are probably going through together on a, on a global basis. I think, you know, it’s not just family caregivers. It’s, everybody’s been going through that at the same time.

But the reason this has come up for me now is that I’ve really been thinking back to a time when I had so much more flexibility. And when I could be really a lot more spontaneous than I can be now.

So I’ve mentioned it here before, but my husband and I have two teenage boys, and now there’s a lot of, you know, driving around and being places with them, but they can be by themselves. I mean, one of my kids is almost 20. He doesn’t even need us to drive him around anymore. We’re lucky if we ever see him.

But when they were babies, you know, they were, they were pretty typical babies and they required a lot of us, but even so. You know, I could just hire a babysitter when I needed one, as long as I could find a good sitter, somebody who would keep my kids safe and who would care for them. My kids did not care at all, as long as whoever was watching them was meeting their basic needs and they had a lap to climb into and gosh, somebody to kiss their boo-boos. They didn’t care one bit. They were just fine.

I can even remember a time when my husband had to go to the emergency room and I was at work and I grabbed the baby from daycare. We rushed home from work. I called our next door neighbors for some emergency babysitting. And they were really glad to help. They were really glad that I had asked for the help and they loved having a few unexpected hours with the baby. He was a really sweet baby.

And I mean, I could just do that. It was easy. People love spending time with babies. Caring for a baby is work, but babies are little. You can pick them up if you need to. I mean, you know how this goes.

Now I do know that if you are caring for kids with special needs that makes it so that it’s not easy to get a babysitter. I see you. And I know this is not the case for you, but in my own experience, I had two babies who were, you know, pretty typical as far as babies go.

Now, when it comes to those of us who identify as family caregivers, we have family caregiver responsibilities. Well, in a very real sense, we have had to leave behind whatever our old normal was.

Maybe we look back at that and we can think that our lives then were easier, or maybe it’s just that that life was more predictable. Maybe it was our life looked like what other people thought it should look like. And so it was easier for, for people to understand what that life was. But whatever it was, we knew that life and we understood that life and we had gotten used to it. It was the way things were.

And that’s a big part of what grief is. It’s acknowledging that something big has changed. And then over time, part of grief is learning to be at peace with the situation, whatever it is that’s changed. Now, of course it might never stop hurting and you might never stop feeling that loss, but it really is possible over time to find some peace with it.

I think a lot of family caregivers grieve losing jobs situations. We grieve the way we used to live according to our own terms in our own house. We had privacy that we miss, uh, creative pursuits like art or writing or any hobby really that we used to do whenever we, whenever we could. We just had so much flexibility in our lives or at least more than we do now. Or maybe we didn’t have more flexibility, but it just seemed like it.

And in any case, it’s not that we can’t have these things anymore. And I want to be really clear about that. You know, if you have family caregiving responsibilities and you want to have a job that pays and you want to live in your own house and pursue creative things and all of that stuff, you can still have that if you’re a family caregiver. It probably won’t look the same and it might not be as easy.

And that’s what we’re grieving. So we can have these things now still, but they’re, they’re going to look different. There’s a whole new dimension in our lives because we’re family caregivers. And I think that’s what we grieve.

Sometimes it’s this gap between the way things looked before and the way things look now. And then of course, some of us are grieving for the people we care for and for the way their lives are changing. So they’re still alive, but they’re changing in ways that are just so hard to watch.

I mean, unless the person you’re caring for is improving, which certainly can be the case. Like if the person you’re caring for is recovering from cancer, for example, that person would be improving. But unless that’s your situation, I know it’s highly likely that you’re in a situation right now where you’re watching someone slowly become less able right in front of your eyes, it’s, it’s unfolding right in front of you.

That actually is what’s going on for me. And I often say here my mom is still in excellent shape. And she really is. But if I even look back to two years ago, right before the pandemic, she was a lot more active then for a lot of reasons. And she’s not as active now. And she is slowing down.

And in my old life, I wasn’t faced with that every single day. I did not have to look at that every single day. And, and I can understand why it would be hard for family members or friends who, who haven’t seen that in action, that it will be hard to face that if they have to look at that now, so I get it.

There’s just so many sides to the situation of being a family, caregiver, whatever your situation looks like, but also the way our grief looks.

And in a lot of cases, we actually grieve over the way our relationships used to be with the people we care for. If you’re caring for your mom or your dad, or maybe a sister or a brother or a best friend or spouse, or whoever you’re caring for. Becoming their primary caregiver, that is going to change your relationship with them. There’s no question it is going to change that relationship.

So I know that a lot of us, when we talk about grief, we think of the stages of grief. There’s been some interesting work on this lately, that that original work was never meant to be taken as stages of grief that we progress through, and when you’re done with one, you move on to the next. So if you’re curious, um, you know, look that up, some of the thinking on that has changed.

But I think one of the most interesting things about that is that those original researchers were able to identify common experiences of grief and those include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And more recently we’ve seen the experience of giving the whole thing meaning.

And we do feel all of these things when we grieve for that old life, when we no longer have it.

I can point to specific examples in my own life over the past 10 years, when I’ve, I’ve gone through all of these experiences myself.

You know, at the top of the episode, I, I talked about how I’ve been putting off recording this episode because I, I just, I feel this so deeply and it’s so hard to talk about. Because I’ve been thinking about this, I can see now where that’s coming from.

And another thing that I have to admit to you is that I do have a belief, and I think it’s pretty deeply held, that I can’t talk about my grief or I shouldn’t talk about my grief over what my life used to be like. That if I do talk about this very specific grief, that I will be shamed for it or that I’ll feel ashamed of it. I think I do feel a little ashamed of it. I worry that people are going to try to put guilt on me for having these normal human emotions or, or that someone might even tell me that I shouldn’t talk about it because I might make my mom feel bad if she were to hear about it.

And I will tell you that my mom and I actually have spoken about this several times over the years. Our relationship now is so much different than it was when we first went into this situation. It’s so much more mature and so much more adult. And so I don’t think that she would be surprised at all to hear that I’m talking about my grief over the life that I don’t have anymore.

But I really have this belief that I should not admit that I’m not really looking forward to watching my mom slow down and start. I, I don’t want to admit that in my old life, I could do that from a distance. I didn’t have to face it every day. It wasn’t here looking me right in my eyes every single day. And in a lot of ways, that was a lot easier than, than what I do now.

I have this belief that I should not miss the days when the only times that I had to act as an advocate with healthcare providers was when it was something about me or my own kids. You know, those are things that are very familiar to me is, is talking to a healthcare provider about something I need that I’m not getting. Or certainly the mama bear in me can come out when I’m talking about my kids and when I have to advocate for them to get what they need. And I miss that. I miss the time when I didn’t have to be constantly checking in with my mom about what her doctors are saying and when her next appointment is, and who’s driving her and do I need to change something around to drive her and all of those things that go along with being an advocate for another adult in the health care system.

I’m sitting here and I’m talking about this and I feel so raw. I feel so vulnerable. And I don’t like that at all. This is just so human to open up like this. I hope that if you are really identifying with me as I talk about this and that, if you’re feeling grief. Grief about anything. It could be grief over losing a person or a relationship, or when you hear me talk about grieving my old life, if this hits you as hard as it hits me, I really just want you to know that you are normal.

I’m normal. This is the way humans are. It’s the way it’s always been. We struggle. We feel losses. We feel losses very deeply. We feel grief. And we just don’t like to be vulnerable. We just don’t like being in a place where we feel so raw and we have to deal with our emotions because they’re staring us in the face and they keep coming up unless we process them. We just don’t like that. And, and that’s, that’s just totally normal.

So I also want you to know before I close here that you are not alone. You’re just not alone. There are, you know, almost 53 million family caregivers in the United States alone. When I say that you’re not alone, I mean that in the literal sense, there are 53 million of us.

And if you’re grieving anything in your life right now, that’s totally okay. There’s nothing wrong with you. You are not a bad person. You’re allowed to miss your old life. You’re allowed to look forward to the life that you want in the future, too. These things are true for you, and they’re true for me.

And if you want to reach out to me, the best place to find me is going to be over in my membership or in the boundaries community. I do want to hear from you if you’re grieving, I’m here to listen. And I just want you to know that. So if you are processing some deep emotions now, to hang in there. Give yourself as much compassion as you can.

Give yourself as much love and understanding as you can. Tell the people around you that you need a little bit of space to process your emotions.

And get in touch with me if you need to.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers, an that includes parents, who want to get some rest and feel less lonely. It’s the place for emotionally-safe community, brave self-development, and self-compassion. You’ll find the link to it in the show notes and over in my Boundaries Community. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2024. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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