caregiver guilt

Deathbed promises and how to fulfill them

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Painting by artist, Mary Riesche
Painting by artist, Mary Riesche

Here’s another article from the past that draws lots of attention. Bringing it into the present today.

First of all – take a deep breath and shed the mantle of guilt you’re wearing.  Now let’s address your dilemma.

When your father was on his deathbed you made a promise to take care of your mother in her old age.  Now she is at the point of not being able to care for herself and you realize that you’re absolutely not cut out for – nor are you capable of – taking her under your roof to provide the care that she needs.  What’s a dutiful son or daughter to do?

I’m not advocating that you break your promise to your father but I am suggesting that you consider redefining what that promise looks like.  You promised your father that you would take care of your mother and that’s exactly what you’re going to do.  Taking care of your mother is not solely defined as moving her into your home and taking care of all her basic needs until she dies.  Very few people have the ability or the means to provide 24-hour care in their home.  You made that promise with the best intentions and you can still honor your promise without dishonoring your father.  Keep in mind that loving your mother doesn’t guarantee your success as her caregiver.  Even adult children with a fabulous relationship with their parent struggle greatly in their efforts.  And if your relationship with your mother is tenuous at best, try picturing the scenario of you as caregiver and her as recipient of that care.  What effect will that have on her, you, and the remainder of your household?

Let’s clarify how best to care for your mother.

Why can’t caring for your mother mean that you’re honest enough to admit that you’re not the best caregiving option?  Do your best to find the care alternative that will provide her an optimal quality of life, e.g. adult daycare, errand and housekeeping services, assisted living.  Do the research and consult the experts to confidently fulfill your promise to your father by securing the best care solution for your mother.  If that solution involves selecting an assisted living facility, there are many resources available to you that can make this move a successful one for everyone involved.  As her son or daughter you will be able to lovingly help her transition into a residential location with like-minded older adults where she can receive the care that will fulfill the promise you made to your father.

Now imagine the NEW normal that your mother and your family can experience.

Your mother lives nearby in an assisted living residence.  She has companions with whom she enjoys spending time.  She receives three wholesome meals a day and when she, or you, feel like seeing each other, you’re just a short drive away!  The time she spends at your house will be as a pampered visitor – not an inpatient (or impatient) relative.  It’s probably difficult right now for you to see this as a viable option, but I think in time, you’ll find that everyone, including your father, will be pleased with the outcome.

Here are some links to get you started on your quest: www.alz.org; www.caregiver.com; www.ltcombudsman.org

I covet your input.  What success, or challenges in achieving success, can you share with us?  I look forward to hearing from you.

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A loved one’s move into memory care

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An Alzheimer’s Love Story: The First Day of the Rest of My Life.

Distraught manI hope you’ll watch the attached 4 minute video that chronicles a husband’s experience of moving his wife into a memory care facility.

This is not a decision that comes easily to anyone.

Think about it.  You’ve spent decades living with the love of your life.  Your days are structured around each other; the ebb and flow of all those hours are what you crave and enjoy.

You are faced with what will most certainly be an irreversible decision to leave your wife in the hands of others.  You feel guilty, regardless of how well-informed and appropriate the decision. Read the rest of this entry »

Caregiver Guilt

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Do you feel as though you don’t visit your loved one often enough at the long-term care (LTC) facility in which they live? Try to acknowledge that guilt is a feeling that may not necessarily reflect an accurate reality of how attentive you are towards your loved one.

The local caregiver.

Many people have expressed their concerns to me that they’re just not doing enough for their loved one who lives in a LTC facility. Even when a caregiver visits Mom several days a week, the caregiver still feels guilty for not making more of an effort to be there for her.

Guilt is a valid feeling – I believe all feelings are valid – but the feeling of guilt may not accurately reflect what is going on. Let’s face it, most of us are hard on ourselves. The old adage, “we’re our own worse critic” came about resultant from generations of people who unfairly beat themselves into the ground.

At a recent gathering I attended, a woman expressed how guilty she felt for not visiting her mother more often than she thought appropriate. Another person, also a caregiver, suggested that this person ask herself whether or not she felt she was doing the best she could in this situation. “If you are, then perhaps your feeling of guilt is based on emotion rather than reality.” Whether five visits a week or one visit a month – if that’s the best a person is able to do, then it’s sufficient.

Some of us caregivers simply need to cut ourselves some slack. Even when the loved one we’re visiting has no concept of the passage of time and is not able to discern whether they’ve been visited as recently as the last hour or as long ago as last year, we still berate ourselves for not being there more frequently.

Caveat: I need to add that even if your loved one doesn’t a) recognize you, and b) can’t quantify the passage of time, you are still a wonderful addition to that person’s life.  No staff caregiver can take your place when it comes to providing a loving presence for your Mom who lives in a facility. Just being there with a smile, a hug, and speaking words of compassion can do wonders towards brightening Mom’s day.

The long-distance caregiver.

One of many walks my father and I took around his facility

My biggest role as a caregiver was that which I performed long distance for my father who lived in a dementia unit in a Southern Oregon assisted living facility. I felt like I was doing something truly valuable for him while I was there but as soon as I boarded the plane for Seattle the guilt enveloped me. Usually, the first night of my return was spent crying because I felt I had been impatient with him, or I acted flustered when I had to answer a question that my father had already asked me no less than two dozen times prior. I relived every moment of my visit, criticizing this and that about what I did, or didn’t do. I was a wreck. I had to talk myself into believing that dad did have a good time and dad was genuinely happy to see me, and by golly, I didn’t do that bad of a job as a caregiver daughter.

I could then relax knowing that he was being well-cared for in my absence; my visits augmented that care, and I could rest on that fact rather than falling back on my guilt. The NY Times article, Being There and Far Away sheds some light on the long distance caregiver’s experience.  I hope you’ll take the time to read the article as I believe it will touch on some topics that all caregivers may experience.

As I mentioned in my Blog entry, Deathbed Promises and How to Fulfill Them take a deep breath and shed the mantle of guilt you’re wearing. It doesn’t do you any good and it gets in the way of you being the best caregiver you can be.  Cut yourself some slack and don’t be so hard on yourself.

Do your best – that’s all that is required.