You Must Let Go of the Guilt

Woman with head bowed
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

[By Shelley Webb]

When I woke up this morning, I was crying. I had been dreaming about my father (who passed away at the end of September). I recall that in my dream, he was not alive and was propped in a chair. I was crying, saying “I’m SO sorry; I didn’t know.”

Ironically, I know exactly what I didn’t know in my dream. I know that I have a lot of guilt over the circumstances of his death. He wasn’t treated well at the hospital; I HATED seeing him propped up in a chair. I wasn’t there when he passed away in the middle of the night.

Nobody was. I wish I could change that and therefore I go over and over it in my mind, trying to rewrite the past but realizing that it is impossible to do so.

According to Dr. Vickie Rackner, author and keynote speaker, “Guilt is a pain that tells you there’s a mismatch between the person you’d like to be and the person you were in that moment.” At “that moment”, I would have liked to have been the person who stayed at the bedside 24/7 and the person who KNEW to argue for hospice care and kept my father at home. I regret that I wasn’t.

Dr. Rackner also states that regret and guilt are distant cousins. Certainly they are related because regret often leads to guilt.

In the book, The Emotional survival Guide for Caregivers by Alexis Abramson, Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD states that when a loved one dies, guilt is the 2nd most predominant feeling in a former caregivers’ experience. There is guilt that they didn’t do enough, guilt that they are now “free” of the burden of care giving, guilt that they have their own life back. This guilt can last 6 months or even longer. It comes and goes but is eventually replaced by the knowledge that the disease process and God’s plan were the biggest factors overall.

Guilt is a part of all aspects of care giving. Caregivers are often overburdened and torn between what they need to accomplish for their employer, their spouse, their family and their care recipient. What was not accomplished often leads to feelings of guilt. (I missed the soccer game; I missed spending quiet time with my spouse; I ran in, dropped off groceries, and ran out of my Mother’s house without stopping to chat at length.) When I was care giving for my father, I would often feel bad that I didn’t make the time to sit with him and play cribbage or watch T.V. as often as he wished I would. There was just too much to do. We DID play Cribbage at least 2 hours almost every night but as he always said “I have all day!” He did; I didn’t.

Anger can also lead to feelings of guilt. We feel badly about being angry that we are stressed, overwhelmed, over-worked, tired, etc., so then we feel guilty which leads to anger back to guilt and more anger…a never-ending circle. Guilt will also cause us not to take care of ourselves, perhaps because we believe we don’t deserve the care – which of course, will lead to anger, to guilt…and you get the picture.

In order to get rid of the guilt, it is important to acknowledge that feelings are JUST feelings, nothing more. You must forgive yourself for your imperfections. You are only human and no human is perfect.

While you cannot change events or all of the activities in your care giving role, you can change your feelings about them and you may be able to change some of the actual activities themselves. For instance, if you are finding it difficult to have any quality time with your care recipient because you are too busy doing chores, hire some of them out. (If expense is a problem, The Area Agency on Aging has a scholarship program for a certain number of hours per month where caregivers can do light housework. Meals on Wheels may be available in your area to deliver some hot food to your loved one or perhaps your church may have a program.) When you are able to spend some time with your loved one, you can get to know them better, and enjoy them.

In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of talk surrounding the book The Secret and the laws of attraction. Part of that philosophy involves a change in the way you look at the world and your role in it. You can change the way you perceive your caregiving role from one of burden to one of gratitude for the experience. Changing your perception will cause you to (consciously or subconsciously) change your actions in order to align the two with each other.

You must remember that it is absolutely imperative to take care of yourself and to continue to enjoy life. Do not feel guilty about those things that you do just for yourself (I’m speaking in moderation, of course). They will make you a happier person to be around. Do not become a martyr; it does nobody any good.

So how does this all relate to my dream and my feelings of guilt? As I thought it through, I decided that I did the best that I could with the knowledge that I had at the time, so I forgave myself. I had cared for my father in my home up until the last week and a half of his life and I am proud and grateful that I was able to do that.

With the holidays approaching, I wanted to mention something else that Dr. Vicky Rackner stated. “Consider giving yourself a holiday gift. Forgive yourself for one choice that brought you guilt. Forgive one other person for one action that disappointed you. Forgive the world for the bolt of unfairness that stood between you and an old dream.”

I hope that you can do that.

About Shelley Webb

Shelley Webb has been a registered nurse for almost 30 years, with experience in the fields of neonatal intensive care, dialysis, case management and eldercare. When her father came to live with her in 2005, the advantages of her medical experience became clear. Due to his dementia and congestive heart failure, her father was not able to care for himself alone any longer and so she took over these duties.

Having experienced the helplessness, frustration, overwhelm and even loneliness that caregiving for an aging parent brings, Shelley is well aware of the emotional and educational support that caregivers need and so she began The Intentional Caregiver web site. With its weekly newsletter, daily news updates and monthly audio interviews of experts in eldercare and supporting services, Shelley strives to encourage and educate caregivers so that they can be empowered to provide the best possible care for themselves while caring for their aging loved one(s).

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Article Source: You Must Let Go of the Guilt