Life Review Post Caregiver Role


A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

Wherever you go, your memories from the place you grew up in always remain special.

– Guru Randhawa

 

Aging in Place

This past weekend I did what’s known as a “Life Review” visit to my hometown. It was self-directed and I didn’t have a planned agenda–I just went to visit and see what the process would offer. I was open to whatever happened and looking forward to seeing it in a different light. When I say that, I mean in a non-caregiving role this time around.

Every visit to my hometown for the past 10 years involved caregiving for my aging parents (4 of them). As the eldercare continuum goes, it started with minor interventions, taking them out for trips in the car, tasks at home, and solving common daily problems.

Which eventually became weekly crisis interventions and dealing with multiple escalating issues, selling the house, and moving them into the final stages of their lives. I’m providing the very abbreviated version–as all informal caregivers know, this escalator you step on only goes in one direction of greater needs and higher levels of stress.

All my loved ones are gone now, 2023 was the final year of caregiving in this small town, so I wanted to revisit without the caregiver role driving it; I must say I had mixed emotions.

The town and my family were synonyms, there is no place I can go from parks, restaurants, streets, and my childhood home (which someone else lives in now) without conjuring up deeply engrained memories of them.

A Greater Appreciation

The small town is Sunset Magazine beautiful in many areas, and the early 1900’s historic homes were framed in holiday lights. I have never seen them in such glory! I know most cracks in the sidewalks (my skinned knee DNA is still probably there), and I was in constant deep thought as the images came to me like lightning to the rod. I recalled things I haven’t thought of in decades, what a ride.The bittersweet experience of losing loved ones somehow clarifies one’s thinking. But it is so true, we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

The small town was glorious, I marinated in it, ate where we once ate, walked where we once walked, and remembered life with loved ones, and how fortunate I was to have them as parents growing up in this place.

Life Review

A life review is a structured procedure for reconstructing our pasts in a manner that can provide three personal benefits that many of us need as we grow older:

  1. An acceptance of the events and choices that have shaped our lives, reflectinggratitudefor the life we’ve been given rather than self-doubt and regret.
  2. A more authentic (and thus more robust) understanding of who we are and how we got to be that way, reflecting the highly developed, reassuring sense of self that psychologist Erik Erikson called “ego integrity.”
  3. A greater clarity in the direction our lives should take going forward, reflecting what we have learned from the experiences and the purposes that have given our lives meaning in the past.

-William Damon PhD

At the start of the new Year may I suggest you engage in a Life Review. Take a trip to your physical environment past–especially if you are a caregiver whose responsibilities are now behind you. Done mindfully, without stress or expectations, might just be the tonic you require for the start of a new year.

It was therapeutic beyond description for me, remembering who I was, who I am, and who I’m becoming with greater clarity, did take going back in time and place…A best-worst experience.

 

See

Life Review Process Butler / Butler (1963) proposes the concept of life review. He defines it as follows:

A naturally occurring, universal mental process characterized by the progressive return to consciousness of past experience, and particularly, the resurgence of unresolved conflicts; simultaneously, and normally, these revived experiences and conflicts can be surveyed and reintegrated . . . prompted by the realization of approaching dissolution and death, and the inability to maintain one’s sense of personal invulnerability (p. 66).

Purpose and the Life Review / Purposeful people look to goals they seek to accomplish over the long haul.

Patrick Note: I did spread ashes of my Aunt Ann in many special places we shared (tears).

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