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Tips for restarting our lives after caregiving responsibilities end

"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack says this is a chance for the longtime caregiver to concentrate on their own needs.

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Carol Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
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Dear Carol: I’m a single woman and an only child. Several years back, I stepped up to help my mom care for Dad, but as Mom grew frailer, I took over his care as the primary. Dad died a year ago, and Mom followed less than three months later. Neither of them wanted to linger, so I’ve made peace with their deaths.

I work online and really enjoy what I do, but I’ve let friendships go due to caregiving duties. It’s obvious to me now that I need to restart my life, but I’m not sure how to begin. Any suggestions? — CL.

Dear CL: I'm sorry about the recent deaths of both of your parents. Under these circumstances, mixed feelings are inevitable since we grieve their loss as we also celebrate that they are no longer suffering. Our family went through this as well, so I do understand.

I’m proud of you for recognizing that it’s time for you to restart a life for yourself. Take your time doing this, reevaluating each step to see if it feels right. This is your chance to concentrate on your own needs.

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Columnist Carol Bradley Bursack responds to some of the things readers commonly ask about her writing and how she chooses topics.

Most caregivers have experienced a diminished circle of friends, if for no other reason than there is no time to devote to nurturing these relationships. That doesn’t mean that the people you felt close to in the past won’t welcome your return. Initiate contact one by one knowing that some may have felt neglected and simply moved on. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel guilty about that. We all have limited resources while caregiving.


Resurrecting old friendships may prove satisfying — or not. Either way, you can always build new ones, as well. I’ll list some starting points:

  • Join a religious community such as a church or temple.
  • Join political or environmental groups, volunteer for your local hospice or hospital, deliver Meals on Wheels, or join an auxiliary involved with an assisted living facility or nursing home. There are also disease-specific groups, so if Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, or some other disease has affected friends or family in the past, you may feel inspired to work for awareness.
  • Tired of health-related topics? I get that. How about supporting a local children’s or teen’s theater group, or joining your local adult theater group in some capacity? Or you could join a painting or craft class which could lead to new friends and provide you with a refreshed focus on life.

As with many things, finding your new normal is about balance, CL. If you immediately jump into several activities, you may feel smothered with responsibility, which you don't need.
This time is for you. Renew some old friendships, expand into new ones, and consider joining a group that reflects what you believe in. Take each step in its turn, then check your comfort level before expanding any further. Try one thing and then another. No rush.

Gradually, you’ll find your life becoming more open, yet you’ll retain control of how social you want to become.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblog.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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