There are many times when changes in our lives create overwhelming gaps in our daily existence. When we have given constant care to a loved one and they continue on their journey to their final destination, we often feel as though a large part of us is missing. I think spousal loss is a perfect example. You cannot share years of experiences with someone, no matter what the connection, and not have a huge void in your life when they pass on. There are so many platitudes used when someone loses a loved one. “Thank God they have their children to fill their lives” or “Thank the Lord they have a good career that will fill the void in their lives.” The truth is that nothing can fill the hole in your heart that death imparts. The comfort and support of family and friends are invaluable. It is also very true that keeping busy and finding distractions do help fill the day and occupy the mind but they do not fill the void. I have been the full time caregiver to my parents for five and a half years and it has been the most rewarding time of my life but there have been emotional struggles. I am finding that it is a big help to try to articulate all of the emotions that I tend to carry and nurture in the pit of my stomach.

Filling the needs (physical or emotional) of a loved one is a massive responsibility. It does not matter whether our loved one lives with us or is in a facility suited for their needs or in their own home. We feel the responsibility of their well being. Whether we meet it head on or blow it off as routine (which was MY way), the stress related to that kind of caring can be enormous. As I look back at the last 12 years, which was when I moved back home with my folks to help them maintain their independence, I can see how close I have come to losing my emotional balance. I am grateful every day for my many blessings but I have felt the stress and guilt and feelings of inadequacy typical of all caregivers. The stress of caregiving is universal but the levels of stress vary in different individuals. My parents had different levels of neediness so the stress associated with their situations differed. My Dad was physically needy but his mind was sound and active. He kept me on my toes and was very demanding of my time and attention. Mom, on the other hand, has Alzheimer’s and several of the stages of that disease can bring stress unlike any other. For example, when they clean their plate at dinner but none of the food has entered their mouth! Also, redecorating their surroundings can be a very creative activity for an Alzheimer’s patient and very stressful for the caregiver.

A sense of humor is essential for everyone’s survival. I found that along with the laughter came a strengthening of my faith that has led me to an awareness that all things are set in a universal plan and that we are given the tools to be instruments of God’s love and kindness. The lessons to be learned and the healing that is accomplished are sometimes more that we can see.

I am finding that the difference in levels of care needed and the levels of attention required also play a large part of creating the void after someone has passed. My Dad went with the Lord on June 28, 2000, and my life, as I knew it was changed beyond words. My every waking moment had revolved around his care and comfort. When he left, the silence was deafening. Since my Mom is in the final stages of her disease she sleeps at least 22 out of 24 hours now and her care is very minimal and scheduled. I find myself walking around in circles trying to find meaning to my day. Caregiving does nothing to hone our social skills and since the role can be so demanding it also becomes all consuming. I have found that our lives are defined by caregiving and when we lose a loved one, we lose part of ourselves as well.

I am finding that after Dad passed I had a large part of me that I had to rediscover. If I am no longer Warren’s caregiver, then who am I? Well, in my case, I am still June’s caregiver but the fear of her leaving is becoming overwhelming. I remember as a child being raised very strictly as a Catholic, and most of my spiritual functioning revolved around fear. Now so much of my life is centered around fear again. Thank God my faith has strengthened immeasurably and my spiritual fear is gone but my fear of loss stands firm. How do we fill the void? My faith tells me that God will show me the way if I let Him. Changes in our lives can be very scary and I think become even more so when we have been so isolated. The good news is that we are all unique creations of the Lord and while our circumstances may be similar our emotional reactions are ours alone. We must all grow, heal and find our way. If the Lord did not have confidence in us, He would not have given us a path to travel on where we are never lost. I pray daily for the faith and grace to make a positive difference in the lives of others and by doing so, fill my void.

Donna Fee


  • Donna was a caregiver simultaneously to her father who had cancer and her mother with Alzheimer's. Within months from losing her father, her young daughter suddenly passed.. and within a few more months, her mother transitioned. Through it all, Donna has maintained a love and caring for all.