top of page

Family Caregiving and Chronic Sorrow

For adults living with and/or providing care for a chronically ill family member, is it normal to be in a state of chronic sorrow?

Prior to providing you with my response to this question, I want to share with you the following excerpt from my book, 'Keeping It Together' raising the issue of chronic sorrow in relation to a grief reaction to loss stemming from a family members chronic illness....

The impact from a death related situational loss can range from minimal to significant. Research has shown that people can die of a broken heart. There is a treatable condition called the broken heart syndrome with symptoms similar to a heart attack caused by severe tense circumstances such as grief. The death of a spouse has the potential of bringing on the symptoms that can cause death due to a broken heart. Research has also shown that death of a spouse puts the surviving spouse at risk of dying within 6 months after the death.*

The highly adverse reaction that can potentially occur in death related losses justifies being cognizant of the impact from situational losses that caregivers experience. One demand that can take its toll especially on family members of individuals with progressive neurological and chronic mental health conditions is witnessing the disappearance of the person as they knew them prior to becoming ill. The situational loss can be a monthly, weekly or daily occurrence for individuals providing care for family members who are chronically ill.

Unlike the permanence of loss in death circumstances which can cause the "broken heart syndrome", caregivers experience ongoing situational losses, a "heart continuously breaking syndrome" while simultaneously taking on demanding care duties. Consequently, many family caregivers could be considered to be living in a state of chronic sorrow.

Chronic sorrow is a set of pervasive, profound, continuing and reoccuring grief responses resulting from a significant loss, or absence of crucial aspects of self or another to whom there is deep attachment.

~Susan Roos

Going back to the question posed at the beginning of this article, "Is it normal to be in a state of chronic sorrow"? Even though I was the one who posed the question, I have difficulty with the word "normal". One could hardly blame a family caregiver for feeling distraught given the circumstances s/he is living under as it is for anyone to feel distraught living under adversive conditions. The key, as in assessing any grieving situation, is to face reality, assist ourselves into positive action, going out of our way to help ourselves, facing the feelings and coming to terms with them instead of burying them as our culture would "normally" have us do.

*Policymic (2013) When lifelong couples die together, it is not just adorable, it is science

bottom of page