Chapter 3: Recognizing your grief

Who am I?

The healthcare provider says
Ladislav Volicer, geriatrics researcher, speaks about the continuous loss experienced by families.(3:22)Video transcript
I've been there
Jim speaks about how illness has taken away his partner.(3:22)Video transcript

With each loss, my role as caregiver increased, requiring me to give up on the things that had brought satisfaction to my life.

I don’t know where I fit in anymore. I am not widowed, and I don’t feel part of a couple anymore.

Caring for someone with a progressive illness can bring about many changes and challenges into your life. Some of these changes may bring a sense of empowerment or confidence from having faced challenges and hurdles along the way, and they may bring a sense of sadness, frustration, or other feelings of grief. You may find that these experiences have left an imprint on your sense of self and your own personal identity.

Your sense of who you are can evolve in relation to others, and it is entwined with the roles within those relationships. Roles within families, like spouse, parent, child, or sibling, can be influential to your identity. As you care for someone with a progressive illness, your role may change because of the circumstance, and you may start to see yourself as a caregiver, a nurse, or a “jack of all trades.”

At times, you may feel a sense of disconnection or feel that you have “lost yourself” or your sense of being. Without other people, including the person who is ill, reflecting back your long-held identity, you may feel less confident about who you are.

There are several ways that your caregiving can affect your sense of self. Roll your mouse over the boxes below for examples.

If your spousal relationship was one of “give and take”



… you may now feel like more of a “nurse” than a partner.


If you are caring for a parent



…you may now feel that your roles are being reversed as you become more of a “parent.”


If you have thought of yourself as a kind and patient person



…you may feel disappointed or ashamed by your irritation, resentment, and/or lack of patience.


If you gave up your job or career in order to provide care



…you may have lost a sense of meaning or purpose, as well as relationships with colleagues or friends.


These changes can be very challenging. They are connected to the losses you’re experiencing on a daily basis, and they are likely to be a part of your grief as you come to terms with the question “Who am I now?”

What may help

  • Acknowledge changes as they come.
  • Identify roles and relationships that have changed or been lost, and that may have impacted your sense of who you are.
  • Understand your shifting identity as a result of gaining new knowledge and experiences that add to your life story.
  • Maintain some connection with family or friends who know you and can reflect who you have been and still are.
  • Although it can feel scary, your changing identity will include both some of who you were/have been in the past and some of who you will be in the future.