How to Handle the Guilt of Caregiving — Part 2
This post is part of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.
I feel a little guilty for writing about guilt. 🙂
I haven’t been a hands-on family caregiver for over two years, but I still feel guilt over things I could have or should have done for my aging parents. So can I really offer advice to you about how to best handle guilt?
One thing I will say with 100% certainty is that feelings of guilt can be controlled, and may dissipate greatly over time, but these feelings probably won’t ever go away completely.
Feeling guilt over placing a loved one in a care facility when you, a family caregiver, can no longer care for them at home is one of the most common causes of guilt, so I’m going to focus on this issue first.
When placement guilt rears its head, look back and recall the living situation in your home before you placed your loved one. Stop and answer the following questions honestly. (Warning: It’s easy to idealize your “before” life, but don’t. Be brutally honest with yourself.)
About Your Loved One:
Were you able to care for him/her on your own 100% of the time?
Was he/she cooperative in the care you were giving? Or were they stubborn and/or combative at times?
Were they really safe from possible falls or injury at home? Could they be left home alone safely?
Were they accepting of outside caregivers you were bringing in to the home to help you?
How was your physical and emotional health before placement? Was it deteriorating?
How stressed and worried were you then?
Did your life seem like it was spinning out of control?
Were you able to get a good night’s sleep? Any sleep?
Were you eating well?
Were you able to get a break from caregiving — enough to feel relaxed and refreshed upon your return?
Were you trying so hard to preserve your loved one’s dignity or the status quo of your family life, you were nearly killing yourself in the process?
Did you sometimes feel you were at the end of your rope?
Were you ashamed to admit you couldn’t care for him/her all on your own any longer?
Did you feel like you were failing your loved one, yourself or your family?
My experience says that if you honestly answer the above questions — and not paint a false rosy picture of what your home life used to be like, you will be free of guilt feelings by the time you’ve read to this paragraph. The safety and care of your loved one, as well as your health and peace of mind have got to be better now than the situation was in your home before placement — or you wouldn’t have moved him or her in the first place!
So, when those guilt feelings start creeping in, come back to this post, answer these questions again and remember what life really was like before you made that difficult placement decision. It may not take the sadness or loneliness away, but it should lessen the guilt quite a lot when you re-confirm the decision you made truly was best for both of you!
How I Overcame My Own Guilt
An example from my life illustrates how I handle the guilt I still feel because my father died alone. I was not at his bedside as I had hoped and wanted so very much. The exact circumstances about his death don’t really matter, just know that the guilt over this bothered me very much initially, and even now, six years later comes back to haunt me on occasion.
The hospice company that cared for both of my parents keeps in touch with bereaved families for one year following the patient’s death. I received various mailings and phone calls during the year after my dad died, but never took them up on their services of counseling, religious services, or holiday memorial events. Just before the hospice service was ending, I decided to make an appointment with the hospice social worker for a one-on-one session.
I sat there crying and told her of the tremendous guilt I felt about my dad dying alone. I had been with him so much over the last several years of his life and the three months he was on hospice, how could that have happened?! I was feeling like I’d let him down completely by not being there.
What I learned from her was that death is a very private experience, and that many people “choose” to die alone! She told me how many families will be at their loved one’s bedside, and then right after they leave to either get some sleep or some food, the person passes away while they’re gone. As she relayed this to me, I had to admit I had heard of this happening to other families I knew.
In my case, education helped me decrease my guilt. And when I think about my dad dying alone and the guilt begins to resurface, I remind myself that it could have been what he actually wanted.
What other things have you felt guilt over as a family caregiver? How have you overcome those feelings? Your thoughts are welcome in the Comments section below.
Photo Credit: Jason Rosenberg on Flickr