To paraphrase Lady Macbeth:
Guilt has no place in caregiving, but know this — it will be with us anyway.
The other day I was in the grocery store and noted an item with the words ‘guilt free’ in its name. With a smile I said to myself “I wish there had been a ‘guilt free’ version of caregiving!”
During the 14 years of my being my best half’s fulltime caregiver there was one thing ever present in my life besides the needs of my wife. It was guilt.
Unfortunately guilt and caregiving often go hand-in-hand.
It was always there. I am sure many of you caregivers reading this have experienced this as well.
There is the guilt from not having enough time. There is never, ever enough time in a day to meet all the needs thrust upon a caregiver.
There is the guilt from not knowing what you should actually be doing at times. As I have said often, caregiving was the toughest job I ever took — and there was no employee manual nor training. It was just jump in and just try not to drown!
There is the guilt from exhaustion. Many nights I felt overwhelming guilt when I would ‘take five’ on the sofa only to wake hours later with the house lights ablaze, the dirty dishes still in the sink, untouched laundry piles, and remembering I had never had the two minutes it takes to get the mail.
There is the guilt from the conflicting demands of caregiving and work. The needs of my wide were paramount to me. My boss at my job felt her demands were of more importance. The conflict was unavoidable as was the intense guilt this produced.
There is guilt laid on you by others – some unintentional, some not. I know much of the guilt others laid on me was unintentional when they were simply trying to make me feel better. However, every time someone told me to “take care of yourself”, but offered no help to do so, the guilt set in. Then there were the intentional comments from those who knew little to nothing about our situation, but felt entitled to chime in and tell me I was doing something the wrong way.
There is guilt from noticing, day and night, the piles of laundry, dust bunnies skittering across the floor, gathering dust, and the backroom jammed with those things you don’t have the time to put anywhere else. Out of sight out of mind was my pattern!
There is the guilt from not having the skills to do all needed by your patient. The big and the small. In the small category I always felt guilty I could never brush my wife’s hair well enough to get it into as smooth a ponytail as she could in the old days. In the large category I always felt guilty that I was continually far too clumsy when changing her pads, bedclothes, and linens.
There is the guilt from the anger that creeps into your thoughts. Exhaustion, pressure, and sadness often lead to feelings of anger.
There is the guilt from the unmet needs of others, which you are forced to lay by the wayside. In my case it was not being able to give our children and grandchildren the amount of time and attention they deserved from their dad and grandfather.
My defense against this guilt was a mantra of saying to myself “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’”.
May your caregiving day be guilt free!