Caring for Dad after my Mum's death = burn out

Has anyone else experienced having to care for their remaining parent immediately after the death of one?

My Dad became unwell on the day of my Mum’s funeral, all very dramatic and horrible. He needed alot of care and during lockdown we couldn’t use carers. He’s gradually gotten better over the 9 months since that day and is now ‘back to normal’ which is amazing but I feel like there’s nothing left of me now.

Honestly, I don’t know who I am, often feel completely numb with shock at all that’s happened.

Just completely hollowed out, like I may as well be dead too because this isn’t living.

Feel like my family see me as a kind of replacement for Mum, like I have to be strong so they can all get on with their lives.

Want to find a reason to live but feel like a burnt out shell.

Feel like with restrictions ending (have even had my first vaccination) I should be making plans, starting to live for myself a bit more. But I’m so confused all the time, can’t even get it together to go for a walk at the moment.


Dear Treehugger,

9 months is a long time to take on all the responsibility of caring for a parent, especially when at the same time you are dealing with your grief about the loss of your other parent. It sounds like you have put your own needs aside and now it is causing you to feel burned out. Both grieving and caring take tremendous amounts of energy, even if we do it out of love and there comes a point when we have to look at our own needs and take some time out to recharge our own batteries.

Does your family realise how much you have actually been doing and have they offered to help in any way? I am surprised that you have not been able to use carers, because despite lockdown, carers have continued to their jobs. (My husband works as a carer in the community.) Are you the one who lives the nearest to your dad and is that why others leave it to you?

When my dad died 4 years ago, one of my 3 sisters and I had gone to my parents home to stay with them because we did not live near them. He died in the evening, and that same night my mum collapsed on the toilet and we had to call for an ambulance. She did not want to go to hospital. The next day her GP did a home visit and diagnosed her with delirium, exhaustion and a severe urine infection. We had to look after her and help her with everything, even washing and dressing her. It became clear that she would need a lot of care. We were fortunate that there had already been care in place for my dad and the agency fast-tracked her for carers to come in 4 times a day. She gradually got better but needed a lot of help until she died the following year. Most of this was done by one of my 3 sisters who lived the nearest to her, had time available and had her own transport. We all appreciated what she did and never took it for granted, We all tried to help in different ways. I don’t think any of us could have done it on our own,.

You have done an amazing job! It is not surprising that you are feeling mentally and physically drained. It will probably take time to get out of the vicious cycle of being too tired to do anything that would make you feel better. What did you enjoy doing before you started to look after your dad? I found that he hardest thing to do when I felt very down and weary was to motivate myself to do something I knew would make me feel better, and to take that first step to actually do it, like go for a walk, or do some gardening. It took a lot of will power. I hope you will soon feel able to look after yourself again, and do things for you, and that others in our family will step up and do a bit more.

If you keep feeling really tired, it may also be helpful to ask your GP to check your blood to make sure there is no physical reason for how you feel.


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Thanks Jo. We did initially try to get council carers to come in but it was proving to be a slow process and infection rates in London were going up so as I was already looking after him it seemed at the time safer to shield my Dad, who was unvaccinated back then and very scared of catching covid. Maybe that sounds excessive but I don’t think we were the only family to feel that it wasn’t safe to use carers. So that’s what I meant by ‘couldn’t’ (I should’ve explained that a bit more…)

Yes, I live very close to my parents’ house. One sibling is fairly close but has preferred to not do much care and the other lives in a different city. It would make sense if I hadn’t told them that it was making me ill but I did. So that’s just the way it went. Sometimes families are like that. Initially I was doing all the probate work too but my brother took over and saw that through to completion.

I don’t think anyone’s ungrateful, I just never thought it would work out so unequally. Don’t really know how it all happened to be honest! It was just a whirlwind of disasters and trying to cope.

The most strenuous time (personal care, helping him stand and walk etc.) only really lasted until February and since then it’s been a gradual return to not having to do as much. And now I just have to take him for walks and look after the house a bit. But I think I’ve just fallen apart as the stress has decreased.

I’m normally a really active person, used to enjoy doing alot of movement and working up a sweat! Am kind of limited to pottering right now. Am enjoying my houseplants…Hope it’s just my body taking some time to recover but yes probably should get checked out with GP too.

It sounds like you and your family experienced a similar sequence of events. Thank you for sharing a bit about what happened for you. I’m really sorry to hear about your losses. I know I’m not alone in getting stuck in this kind of thing, just reeling from the shock of it.

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I completely understand your decision about carers. If I had lived in the London area I would probably have done the same. Certainly at the start of lockdown, carers were not provided with the correct PPE and your dad would have been at an increased risk of being exposed to the virus. My husband lost about 25% of his working hours (we live in Essex), when families of some of the people he looked after informed the company that they would do the care themselves. Things are a lot better know. My husband had both vaccinations, but still needs to do a weekly test. His mum (who lived in Kent) had end of life care from August until the end of November, and at first I was quite worried about the number of different carers coming into her house but they seemed to have all the precautions in place.

Good to hear that your brother took on the responsibility for the probate. My husband and his brothers are having to deal with this at the moment for his mother’s estate and it is a lot of paperwork! It was interesting for me to see the different family dynamics between his family and mine. I come from a very close-knit family. I am the oldest of 5 and all of us, plus partners and children, helped out in various ways, but my husband only has 2 brothers and they deal with things very differently. One of them said right from the start that he could/would not do much, living too far away and not being able to deal with the situation. (He has made a bit of an effort since.) In the end, we all have our own conscience and can only be responsible for our own actions. I spent a lot of time on my own at my mother-in-law, caring for her, and it was really hard, but when I expressed that and asked if we could maybe look into more help, I did not get a very nice response. It did affect my own health and took me a while to get my energy back, but I am still glad that I did it because she was a lovely woman and very dear to me.

I am glad hat your dad has made a good recovery and that you are able to take him for walks. Maybe now that you have more time, you also have more time to think about things. You probably did not have much time to grieve the loss of your mum. That’s what happened to my sisters and me after dad died and we had been so busy looking after mum that we had no time to deal with our own sadness until much later.

My GP has always been very supportive so I hope your GP will be too. Grief and stress can do strange things to our bodies and minds and sometimes is it good to get reassured that there is nothing wrong with our health.


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Honestly thank you so much for sharing this Jo. Although I’ve know all the way through that there are thousands of people who find themselves suddenly caring as well grieving, I’ve not had the wherewithal to try and make contact with anyone in a similar situation until now. So I really appreciate hearing your story.

It’s wonderful that you and your family were able to work our how to share the load (not that anything can make these situations easy or painless). My own bunch sound a bit more like your husband and his brothers. I guess you don’t really know how you’ll react as a family until everything hits the fans.

I totally get what you say about caring for your mother-in-law - you feel the impact on your health but also the preciousness of that time with the person. I don’t know how else I would’ve had the time I did with my mum before she died unless I’d been helping my dad look after her. And I know I’ll be glad of the time with Dad too.

Yeah, the probate was the icing on the cake. I sort felt like someone was playing a joke on me, it was dreadful…

I definitely did assume before my parents became ill that my family would all pitch in equally. But who knows, if one of them had been living closer than me to my parents’ house, maybe I would have avoided doing my part too. I’m definitely not a saint or even someone who enjoys looking after people!

It’s a weird time when you have to turn the care back onto yourself though isn’t it? I have regrets about not taking better care of my self over the last couple of years as it’s left me truly exhausted at times. Definitely aged about a decade. But I couldn’t abandon them so everything else has followed really.

I’m so glad to hear your husband is safer at work these days. This country would fold in about 2 seconds without carers - professional and otherwise.

It’s not a glamorous subject is it so I do find it hard to discuss with people. But I think I’m starting to understand that there is much meaning in the care we give/gave, so maybe in a weird way I did do the right thing by myself.


Caring for a loved one is the hardest job in the world.

Well done you.


Oh thank you :slight_smile: and yeah, it really is.

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