What is guilt? According to the dictionary, it is being responsible for the commission of an offense. Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong. Self-reproach for inadequacy or wrongdoing.
Is it fact, that you, the caregiver, are responsible for an offense? Have you done something wrong? Quite the contrary. You have taken on the responsibility of caring for a person you love very much.
You didn't ask for this person to have Alzheimer's Disease, nor did you ask to be the caregiver. This is a situation that life has presented to you and you have stepped up to the plate. It was a choice to care. What a brave, honorable decision you made.
Whether you care for them by yourself or you have assistance (in home care, day care or nursing home care), you are the "one" there for them.
Why do you take responsibility for things you're not "guilty" of? Is your best not good enough? Of course it is. So, why do you feel inadequate? Because you set goals that are unattainable for anyone to reach.
I have worked with many caregivers over the past 20 years and the majority of them faced feelings of guilt. They put their ALL into caregiving and yet, never felt as if they were doing enough. If you are doing your best, then you are doing enough. You are not guilty of anything. You have not been "sentenced" to this situation, it has been given. When something is given, it is a gift. You can't control what is given to you, but you can control how you choose to respond.
A real life example: Several years ago I worked with a man who was the caregiver for his wife with Alzheimer's Disease. They had been high school sweethearts and had been married close to 55 years when I met them. I remember the first day he talked with me, he was distraught, beside himself, sort of "scattered." (Little did I know, he and his wife had been presenters for the Dale Carnegie series, obviously not a "scattered" man).
This was a man feeling the stress of caring for his wife. When he made the decision to take care of himself and get a break, he brought his wife to the day center where I worked. Soon after, I began to see a transformation of his state of mind. He was at ease, happy, alive!
One day he confided in me about a change in his attitude. He said when he would put his wife to bed at night and finally sit down to relax, there she was. He said the moment he saw her, his entire body would tense up, feeling as if he were going to explode. After several of these incidents and feeling much guilt, he said to himself, "something has to change, she can't, so I must." He said he suddenly remembered someone telling him "to give thanks for ALL things."
That was his turning point. From that point on when his wife would come out of the room at night, he would greet her, sit her next to him on the couch. and hold her hand, as if they were dating again.
This change in his response not only calmed him, but had a calming effect on her, allowing her to rest better when she did go to bed. He gave thanks for the "extra" time he had with her. I still to this day think of them often and have such admiration for that man, husband...caregiver. I'm thankful for his example.
Do we as caregivers think we must punish ourselves by living under the shadow of guilt and misery? Do we feel our loved one is suffering so we must also? I hope not. The best thing we can do for our loved one's and ourselves is to recognize that feelings of guilt are irrational.
We must take care of ourselves by dismissing those feelings. Feelings of guilt lead to depression. Depression can lead to ill health and despair. If you as the caregiver becomes "down" than who will care for your loved one?
Caring for yourself requires taking breaks whenever they present themselves. Never turn down an offer for help. Try to exercise, even if it means taking a walk around the block. Journal your feelings. Laugh with someone, even if it's yourself or the one you're caring for. Talk with friends, family, clergy or join a support group. Drink a coke. Watch your favorite movie. Dance. Please, take care of yourself.
The person you are caring for needs you. They continue to love you, even if they can't express it. Love goes beyond any disease, ailment or life's disappointments.
So, I ask the question again, why do we feel guilt? Because, it's a bad habit we must "kick." "Let go" of those guilt feelings and start living. When feelings of guilt start creeping up on you again (and believe me, they will), tell yourself "I'm doing the best I can and my best is enough." "My verdict is; not guilty, I have nothing to feel guilty for."
Say: Good-bye to GUILT (Give Undeserved Illusions Little Thought) Hello to Life.
About the author:
Article courtesy of William G. Hammond, JD, and Jea Castrop May. William G. Hammond, JD is a nationally known elder law attorney and founder of The Alzheimer's Resource
More Interesting Articles