Caretaker Fatigue and Delayed Grief after a Loved One Dies


When you are one of the sole caretakers of a terminally ill loved one, most of your time is occupied by tending to their needs. Responding to these needs is understandably a fulltime job and most of us give freely of this time with love and compassion. It’s easy to skip a meal, lose sleep, and forget yourself when you need to care for someone you love dearly


Caretaker fatigue is something you may have heard about with respect to hospital workers, hospice staff, and other professionals. Caretaking fatigue is something that also applies to those who care for family members or friends. And, this form of burnout can continue to be palpable even after a loved one has passed on


Miller Funeral Services want to focus on this common concern and the steps it takes to move forward with self-care and healing.


What Is Caretaker Fatigue and Its Signs?

Caretaker fatigue is defined as a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Fatigue arises when the caregiver is unable to delegate others, take time away for self-care and emotional support, or has been in a long-term caregiving role. This feeling of burnout can continue once the person cared for passes on, unless steps the person takes steps to recover and heal.


Signs that you may be experiencing burnout include:


  • Withdrawal from friends and loved ones
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Feeling immense sadness 
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite, weight loss
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Getting sick more often
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Feelings of self-harm


If you have these symptoms, it is important to take them seriously and seek help. Compassion fatigue is not something to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. There are many who experience burnout when sacrificing so much time, love, and devotion to care for a loved one. You are not alone. Seek a counselor who is familiar with end of life caregiving, or find online resources about caregiving fatigue that are helpful. 


What Is Delayed Grief?


Delayed grief is a protective mechanism that enables you to deal with an emotional upset that cannot be fully realized in the moment. This sometimes occurs when you are a caregiver for a terminally ill loved one, or because you are unable to feel the grief and loss in the moment. Eventually, the grief will surface in weeks, months, or even years.


Suppressing emotions while dealing with a loved one at end of life may have been a coping mechanism, but it can lead to depression when not fully felt. This is another good reason to seek support when dealing with overwhelming feelings of loss and grief. 


Steps to Incorporate Self-Care into Your Day 


If you are feeling burnt out or in the grips of caretaker fatigue, there are some steps you can take to better care for your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.


  • Keep on top of your doctor’s appointments and discuss how you are feeling.
  • Focus on a balanced, healthy diet. If you aren’t hungry, try small snacks throughout the day, or treat yourself to something you really like.
  • Exercise by doing activities you enjoy, whether that is the gym, a walk, or a hike in nature.
  • Journaling can help provide a good, safe outlet for your feelings. 
  • Remember that you are not alone in your feelings. Many people who have had a recent loss struggle with guilt, remorse, anger, sadness, and many other emotions. It is normal to feel them.
  • Keep close to friends and family, and find ways to get together with people who you can talk to openly. 
  • Get out of the house. Go to a movie or the park, or even find a place to volunteer. 
  • Rest as much as you can. Sleep is vital to emotional wellness and can help you recover from a lengthy people of caretaking.


The team at Miller thinks caregivers are amazing, compassionate, and resilient people. We hope this helps shed some light on caregiver fatigue and why it is important to take steps to fully heal. If we can answer any questions, please do not hesitate to call us.

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