by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA
Q: My husband passed away about a year ago. He was 20 years older than me, and I spent many years as a caregiver for him. Now that I am living on my own again, I find myself trying to find meaningful activities to fill my days. I come from a small family and have a small circle of friends. How can I reconnect with life and find purposeful activity again?
A: The loss of someone you love, especially a spouse whom you provided care for, can be a big adjustment. You have gone from a life focused on caregiving to a life that is looking for new purpose. The first year after a loss is often spent readjusting to life and focusing on taking care of yourself and your needs that might have been ignored while you were in the role of caregiver. Getting yourself emotionally ready to take on new roles and activities is the next step.
It is admirable that you want to find purposeful activity and ways to actively engage in life. We all want to wake up and feel that we have a purpose outside of ourselves. Now that you have had some time, you have probably been able to gain some perspective as well. This is a good time to reflect on your life before becoming a caregiver. Make a list of the activities that you enjoyed in your marriage and even prior to being married. Are there any interests you had that you haven’t pursued in recent years?
Write down personal goals for yourself. These may be things you want to do to feel better physically, spiritually, financially or socially. If you can identify the areas that are a priority to you, it will be easier to identify activities that might fill those needs.
Many people choose to volunteer in some capacity or join community groups that offer connections to others. Think about who you might enjoy working with: children, youth, adults, older adults or animals. Consider what talents or time you might have to contribute. Here are a few ideas you might consider:
- Nonprofit organizations often need help with community events or fundraisers. If there is a group you contributed to before, think about contacting them to see what help they may need.
- School is back in session. Schools typically welcome volunteers to help mentor children, proctor exams, go on field trips, or assist in the classroom with reading or math. Consider contacting your county’s Communities in Schools organization to see what programs are in need.
- A local community college may offer courses you can take to learn new skills or brush up on new technology. Explore new hobbies, something artistic or learn a new language.
- Check out local arts programs. This can be a great form of self-expression or a way to become involved in a community betterment project.
- Consider looking at programs like the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). These groups have relationships with many different volunteer sites and can offer many opportunities to find the right fit for you.
- Tap into talents. Do you sing, play an instrument, cook or create a craft? These can be shared in a variety of ways, especially with children’s groups or older adults.
- Connect with a local faith community. They often offer a variety of classes, clubs and volunteer opportunities you can participate in.
- Support our military. Soldiers are so appreciative of care packages and letters. There are several opportunities you can access online or through local programs, such as a local chapter of the USO.
- Forge relationships with four-legged friends. Local animal shelters often have volunteer opportunities available.
- Play politics. You can get involved with local campaigns if that is your passion.
- Take a trip. Sometimes growth and purpose can come through retreats, meditation or guided mission trips.
The bottom line is that you have to get up each day and continue to seek out purposeful activity in your life. There are opportunities to give back and experience personal growth. You may have to try a few things to see what is best for you. However, please do not get discouraged if the first thing you try is not the right fit.
Remember, you are looking for balance. There is something out there for you. Spend some quality time reflecting on where your passion lies, and find joy in the little things that make you feel like you have that sense of purpose back.
Readers may send questions to Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org