Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do ...
Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Monday, August 29, 2011

Through My Care Giver Eyes - Guilt

I had pledged to have "no regrets".

I would take all the steps necessary to keep her healthy and functional. To make sure the medical care she received was correct, consistent, reasonable without being too invasive or inappropriate. I changed her doctor of 15 years when he failed to be responsive to her home nurse. I "lived" at the hospital and the rehab facilities with mom whenever her foot passed their threshold. I guarantee that some of the staff at those places never want to see my face again, because I can be a pain in the a** when I am tired and worried.

No regrets! I would do what needed to be done.

But another emotion raises its ugly head from time to time.


Guilt is an insidious creepy bug. It gets into your mind through the cracks of your armour. Guilt is the internal enemy I deal with on occasion.

It all begins with the best of intentions.

Sometimes I'd think she could do better at her exercises or her walking. And I'd push her. "Come on mom, you can walk a little faster. Remember this is exercise, and you need to push yourself." And then I'd discover the truth of her inactivity. She was walking slowly or sleeping so much because she had a fever and was on the crest of another serious infection.


I would want her to do more for herself so she wasn't sitting around all the time. I'd tell her to get a glass of water if she was thirsty or to make her own lunch if I am out. I'd remind her that all these normal activities add up to cumulative exercise. That walking to the kitchen, going to the refrigerator, pouring her own water, returning to her chair ... these normal of activities of daily living were good for her. In essence - when she would ask for water, I would ask her to get the water herself! And then I would discover her arthritis in her hands was bothering her and she couldn't open the water jug easily, and pulling and pushing the heavy freeze door for ice was difficult. The cup she wanted was too high to reach. She had difficulty managing her walker and a glass filled with water as she returned to her chair.


And yet I would remind her that if she lived on her own, she would find a way to manage these things. And that exercise of every day life would keep her strong.

She would try. She never balked at these requests. She would always try. Sometimes she would be successful, sometimes she wasn't, and usually when she wasn't, it was because of something out of her control.


And sometimes I would get short with her over silly things ... knowing all the time she is basically a pleasant person, not mean or intolerant like some elderly I have heard about. She seldom responds back when I am short of temper. And then looking inward I would realize that I was really the one with the problem. Not her.


And then there is the desire to claim back more of my life, more normal things that others do. To spend unfettered time with friends without the worry about getting home. To be more of a wife to my husband ... to have the freedom for us both to be out of the house together more often. To visit our son's campground just once (he's been there 3 summers and we have never seen it), to see the place my son and his fiance have chosen to get married next year, to help my daughter when she moves. Just normal stuff ...

... and of course there is ... you guessed it ... guilt!

You see, Mom doesn't have her normal life either. Does she remember the normal things she used to do? Does she wish for the car she once owned and the freedom to drive away as she once could? How much would she love to just go to the grocery store by herself again without the aid of a walker? Or what about just going for a simple walk down the street without stopping to rest? How about the simplest of things ... the luxury of a private bath or shower?

Wanting my life back seems small compared to all the losses she has sustained.

The emotions of being a full time care giver are complex. It is easy to say "you have nothing to feel guilty about." But guilt does not respond to reason and logic. It is a personal emotion that arise from within, from the total of who you are as an individual, how you were raised, what your values are, and how well you meet them.

And how do I deal with these emotions?

Not as well as I would like, but one technique helps.

I focus on ... today!

Today she woke with a smile on her face (actually, she does that all the time). Today she is well or getting well. Today she can go for a walk outside because the air quality is good and the temperature is comfortable. Today we have company coming for dinner, and she loves guests. Today my daughter is coming for a visit, and mom really enjoys seeing her. Today my grand dogs will be here, and they are a happy distraction. Today her other daughter plans to visit, and she misses her bubbly personality.


Today ... it is all any of us have. I focus on "today" and try to be positive so I don't add to the guilt I already carry.

And it should be said ... it helps when I write. :-)

Retired Knitter
Care Giver and Daughter


  1. That old guilt monster keeps rearing his head. Why didn't you do this? Why didn't you say that? Why didn't? Why didn't? We have to keep reminding ourselves we are only human, we are doing the best we can. No one is perfect, but, I am willing to bet your Mom thinks you are pretty darn close.

  2. I started writing a comment about my own guilt and deleted it. It was too long and I didn't want to hijack your post.
    You'll feel guilty no matter what, but you are doing everything (and more) for your mother and I'm sure she feels blessed.
    I will always wish that my mother's condition didn't decline so quickly and that I could have been able to do more for her...
    I greatly admire (and slightly envy) you.

  3. Keep writing. I have felt everything you say. Blessings

  4. I think it is impossible to live and not have regrets.

  5. You write so well!
    Guilt comes from looking at the glass half empty. Living for today is like looking at it half full.

  6. You are saying it so beautifully.
    I wrote--a lot--and afterward, threw it all away.
    My problem, overcome in time, was anger: anger at the situation, anger at myself that I wasn't doing better, etc. Then I felt guilty about being angry!
    By my second or third caregiving stint, I was doing better.
    You will do better; you sort of "grow into" the task.

  7. When I took care of my mother at the end - she made me feel guilty that she felt guilty that I had to care for her at the end. It's a vicious cycle.

    Your mother gets better care with you than she would get anywhere. Own that - be proud.

  8. Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments regarding this particular posting. It was kind of a difficult one to write.

    Actually, there are a number of postings coming up that were difficult to write because they focus on my feelings and reactions which weren't always pretty!!

    I believe that to tell this story you have to tell the good and the bad - otherwise it is a fairy tale.

  9. I totally understand your guilt. After living with us for three years, Mom had to move into an Assisted Living home. She's happier there with friends her own age. Her savings depleted after supplementing her pension for the rent, we applied for Veteran's Benefits - 10 months ago. Still no decision. Yesterday, the assisted living home called to inform me that they can no longer "carry" her and that she will have to move into a different room. I thank God that they didn't evict her. I am leaving for vacation in just a week, and was so angry that they pulled this at this time. Here, let's turn your Mom's life upside down and then you walk out on her. Yep, Guilt!

  10. taking things one day at a time is the only way to get through it all. granted i am technically a care giver like you but there have been some life events to occur in my 'short' life that even cause me to appreciate all the little things on a day to day basis. :) and yes there is guilt but we're human.


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