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Caregiving in the Midst of Tragedy

Caregiving in the Midst of Tragedy

With all the events of the world recently, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. We see tragedies in the news, we experience them personally, and it feels unfair. It feels heartbreaking. It feels all the more overwhelming when you’re trying to hold yourself together as a care partner.

Your natural tendency is probably to think about your loved one’s needs more than your own. But if there is anything helpful we can share today, it’s that you must take care of your own needs to continue to meet your loved ones needs. Taking care of yourself is step one.

This starts with acknowledging and giving yourself space to feel what you are feeling. Grief, anger, sadness - they are all valid emotions and all need to be felt. It’s okay to cry and let it out.

Many of us worry how seeing our grief affects our loved ones, especially as they may or may not still have the ability to process or comprehend the tragedy. Is it okay to break down in front of my loved one? Should I try to hide my emotions completely? Even as you try to put these plans in place – it’s not possible to shield your loved one from everything all the time. They will see and feel your emotions. In the case of national or world events, your loved one may still be very aware of what they see or hear in the news.

How can you best respond?

If your loved one is in the early to moderate stages:

  • Validate their feelings, just as you would yours. The feelings may be different than yours, and that’s okay. We all process grief differently and at different times.
    • You might simply say, “I’ve been feeling a little sad lately. How are you feeling?” After they respond, "We all feel that way sometimes don't we?"
  • Start by asking what they know. Keep the story simple; you don’t need to overshare details. Ask what questions they have. You can clarify, but don’t argue. Keep focus on their feelings more than any specific details of the event.
    • If they bring up a news event, ask, "What have you heard about this?" After they respond, "I heard about that too. It makes me [sad, upset, angry] that something like that could happen. How are you feeling?"
  • You might consider asking your loved one for advice. Share in a limited way why are you are feeling [sad, mad, angry], and ask if they’ve felt the same before. This can be a bonding moment for you both!
    • You might say, “I’m just having a really hard time because someone in my family is sick. Have you ever gone through that? What helped you get through it?”
  • Remind your loved one of your connection. Depending on what they are feeling, this could be emphasizing that they are safe, that your emotions are not because of them but a reaction to this event, or simply restating your love for them or how grateful you are to have each other.
    • You might say, “I think you saw me crying after dinner last night. I’ve been sad about something I heard recently that has nothing to do with you. I’m so glad we have each other.”

If your loved one is in the moderate to later stages:

  • In the case of a personal loss, you may want to tell the truth once (e.g. if a beloved family member passes away). If it becomes a repetitive question where they are grieving anew each time, then you might want to switch to a therapeutic fib to spare undue grief and anxiety – for both of you. Let other family members know to avoid talking directly about the topic as well.
    • If they bring the person up, you might switch to say something like, “I always loved Aunt Betty; I remember the time we went to the beach as kids. We loved finding seashells together.” Reminisce about the person rather than focusing on recent events.
  • In the case of a national event, you may not need to bring up details of the event that would unnecessarily upset your loved one. You may consider keeping the TV off for a bit.
  • Your loved one will still sense your emotions. Validate their perception of this if they also seem anxious. Reassure them that it is not related to them. Reassure them of your connection and love for them.
    • You might say, “You may have noticed that I seem [upset, angry, sad]. I got some bad news recently, and I wanted to let you know it’s not because of you. I love you very much.”
  • Take a deep breath and lean on your community of support. Make sure you have opportunity to discuss and process in your own time, with friends or family who are able to help.


Please know that your Insight community is always here for you in the midst of good times and bad. Give us a call at 703-204-4664 if you need any support, have questions, or need advice at any time.







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