Empty Nest Syndrome in Caregivers


Watching baby birds grow and fly from a nest outside our office reminded our staff how changes in the rhythm of life can leave some feeling out of sync.

We watched daily as they crafted the nest, fed the babies and taught them to fly, so there was a profound sense of sadness when the nest was empty. It occurred to me how much this brief snapshot into nature’s birthing and release process paralleled many caregivers as they accompany loved ones along their end-of-life journeys.

Empty nest syndrome isn’t a clinical diagnosis; it is a phenomenon in which parents may experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.

Research suggest that parents struggling with empty nest syndrome experience a profound sense of loss that might make them vulnerable to depression, alcoholism, marital discord and identity crisis.

Empty nest syndrome can also affect caregivers when a loved one’s end-of-life journey is completed. Caregivers often report feelings of loneliness, depression or loss of purpose.

When a family member dies, the world changes for the caregivers left. They may experience a sense of feeling useless. Days and nights once filled with numerous responsibilities are now void of any purpose or direction. As one bereaved family member recently expressed, “Their (death) not only marked an indelible change in my life and family’s life, it also marked the end of a role/purpose.”

As caregivers grieve the death of those they compassionately served, these reminders can help to address “empty nest” symptoms:

  • Make self-care a priority: Maybe the most important thing a caregiver can do is allow themselves to experience all the painful emotions associated with their loss.
  • Acknowledge and mourn your loss: Recognize there may be a grieving process. Crying and tears are normal reactions to a significant loss. Consider various ways to mourn your loss through rituals, funeral services or connecting to cherished objects, such as photos, personal effects, jewelry or memorabilia of your loved one.
  • Seek support: It helps to talk to someone about your loss and emotions. Consider caregiver or bereavement support groups.

Our baby hummingbirds aren’t in their nest anymore. From time to time it seems that one will reappear at the window to say, “Hello, we’re doing fine … go serve others!”