Grief reactions in carers

A carer is someone who provides care and support for a parent, partner, child, or friend who has a disability, is frail, aged, or who has a chronic mental or physical illness. The intensity of the caring relationship can mean that carers experience significant grief that may challenge their sense of identity and purpose.

Carers come from all cultural and social backgrounds and range greatly in age. Some care for love alone; others provide care from a sense of obligation. Some provide care 24-hours a day every day; others give care for a few hours each week.

A 2017 South Australian report on carers identified 245,000 people in caring roles.

Grief For What Might Have Been

Carers may experience different kinds of grief. For example, when a child is born with a disability, the parents may grieve for ‘what could have been’. Other carers grieve for the changes in a loved one diagnosed with a progressive physical or mental illness, or for the loss of their own lifestyle, dreams, and expectations when they take on a caring role.

Grief At The Death Of The Person They Have Cared For

When the person they care for dies, a carer may experience a range of emotions – guilt, grief, loneliness, isolation, and anger. They may feel that they will not survive without the person they have cared for, and may feel overwhelmed and confused.

Sometimes, people feel a sense of relief at this time, particularly if the person they cared for has suffered a great deal. Yet others experience a sense of anger towards the person they have lost, feeling that the time spent caring has robbed them of the opportunities to live a ‘normal’ life, and to achieve their own potential.

The insecurity following a major loss can be frightening and draining. The feeling of being alone with oneself after the intensity of a caring experience may add another layer to the feelings of loss and grief. This can be difficult for some carers to negotiate.

Most carers are comfortable supporting the needs of others, and may find it hard to allow others to see and support their own needs.

Coping With Grief

  • don’t be afraid to ask for help when it’s needed. It is better to deal with painful memories as soon as possible
  • releasing pent-up emotions can feel freeing. If you are experiencing feelings of guilt, talk about them, write them down, share them with a trusted friend, or try to express them in some way
  • as a carer, the days were probably very busy – there was always a reason to get up in the morning. It may be useful to find a new type of structure for life. Setting daily goals can help in making sure that each day has a purpose
  • remember that grieving is an important part of healing the sense of loss. Be patient and gentle with yourself.

Other resources

Beyond Blue

Provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.
Palliative Care Victoria: Loss and Grief Issues for Carers

Information about unrecognised grief and loss and grief issues for carers


Page last updated: 19 November, 2019