Last year, a dear friend of mine lost her husband of 36 years to colon cancer. She’d been his caregiver for half their marriage, yet they had a relationship to envy. No discussion was taboo between them. Honesty was valued and expected. He was her advocate, her cheerleader, her defender, and she was his. They could make each other laugh, even during the darkest times. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the stuff of Hallmark movies, but as she would tell me now and then, “He’s so damn hard to stay mad at.”

When he died early one morning, asleep in the bed that hospice had brought him, she called me a few hours later in tears, “He’s gone, and I feel relief.”

Her words made perfect sense to me – an honest reflection of the duality of life when caring for someone we love. Seeing them hurting, declining physically, and, in some cases, mentally, is often the hardest part. But, when their pain is gone, our sorrow is tempered slightly, because we know they’ve been released and are finally safe.

Even with that said, there have been too many times when I’ve heard caregivers apologize for speaking this feeling aloud – maybe for fear of being judged by the listener, or by themselves. Then, it becomes one more burden for someone already dealing with a heavy heart.

So here’s the takeaway, dear friends. Relief is a natural  reaction to grief, stress and worry. It doesn’t mean you loved the person any less. It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t do anything for them if they were still alive. It doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to experience a deep sense of loss. It means you’re human.

Feel what you feel without guilt, shame, or second-guessing – because this is how the healing begins.


 A painting of mine entitled, “Tending to Our Grief”


  1. Sheila Cain says:

    My 90 yr old mother passed away just before Christmas this year. I was her main caregiver for the last eight years. As a working single parent, it was very difficult because there were times when I practically had to abandon my children whenever she was in the hospital. The last couple months my mom was bedridden and under hospice care. That was the most difficult time of all as I just had surgery on my shoulder last year and it was very hard changing her every half hour. For the first time in eight years I come home from work and I don’t know what to do with myself because she is no longer here to care for. When I find myself realizing that I am free to do what I want to do I struggle with feelings of guilt but I know that I shouldn’t because I gave her the best care that I could.

    • Judith Henry says:

      Sheila, hope you’ll take this opportunity to breathe, and rediscover who you are again. Always a daughter, of course, but so much more. I understand that guilt, but please know absolutely that you gave your mom the best care you could. Wish you all the best.

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