Caregiver grief in terminal illness and bereavement: a mixed-methods studyedit
Caregivers experience multiple losses during the downhill trajectory of a loved one’s terminal illness. Using mixed methods, this two-stage study explored caregiver grief during a terminal illness and after the care recipient’s death. Caregiver grief was a state of heightened responsiveness during end-stage care: anxiety, hostility, depression, and trouble concentrating, remembering, and getting things done. Following the death, caregiver grief became a state of sustained reactivity: Overall distress was diminished and anxiety and hostility decreased significantly, but loneliness, sadness, and tears increased. Overwhelming responses were triggered by unforeseen visual or auditory reminders of the person. Sleep disturbances began during end-stage care and continued after the death. At both times, caregiver grief was highly influenced by the social context; relationships with family and friends (more cohesive versus conflicted) shaped responses. Social work practitioners can help caregivers who may be unaware they are experiencing grief to identify and integrate these normal responses to loss.