IMG_1003It can be hard to figure out what do with your life when a loved one’s life ends. If you spent years devoting most of your time and energy meeting your care receiver’s needs, it can feel like you have lost your sense of purpose when the funeral is over and you go home alone.

So what do you do with your time now? How do you adjust to this new reality? Again, the journey through grief is unique to each individual, but I discovered (quite by accident) that doing something that honored my mother’s life helped me stay connected to her. It also helped me heal.

When I was asked to speak at our church on Mother’s Day about mother-daughter relationships two years after Mom died, I went out to the garage and took down a large cardboard moving box that contained the letters she had written to me during the six-and-a-half years she cared for my dad. I found one letter that was special to me, and when I did my little presentation, I read excerpts from it and told a few stories. Afterward, people came up to me and said, “You have to write a book!” I knew they were right, and I started on it the next day.

It took me three years to edit her letters and get the book published. As I was working on it, I did not have an end goal. I had no plan or idea of what I would do with it once it was finished. I was just enjoying the process because it helped me stay connected to Mom. Editing each letter down to its essence gave me insights into her humor, her strength, her faith, and her struggles. I would have never dreamed that her experience would eventually lead to me build a business that helps other caregivers.

If you have lost someone you love, think about finding a new way to serve that would honor his/her memory. Did your loved one have a passion? Is there something you can do that will further that passion and help someone else?

Take a look at all of the nonprofit organizations in your area. There are children who need help learning how to read. There are young mothers who are alone and need mentors. There are food banks that need volunteers to help feed the hungry. There are other caregivers who need emotional support and respite care.

You have already proven through your experience as a caregiver that you have an amazing ability to love and to give of yourself. So if you can summon up your energy, compassion and caring and use it to do something that honors your loved one’s memory and assists someone else in need, it may help ease your pain and help you find a path that lead to a new and meaningful life.

Tomorrow I’m going to finish this series with a story about a beyond-the-gave experience I had with my mother a few years ago, and I will tell you why I have absolutely no doubt that life continues beyond death.