Caregiver Guilt 

By Dorothy Womack

The role of a caregiver at home is usually accompanied by varying degrees of guilt. This happens regardless of our effectiveness, as it seems to be virtually impossible to care for our loved ones and simultaneously face the realities that we will inevitably lose them. Most of us eventually confront not only the loss of our loved ones, but the guilt that we could have done more, should have known better, would have done differently in retrospect. This increases not only our guilt, but our grief as well. We long to spare our loved ones from the ongoing progression of disease and death but we cannot save or rescue them. As caregivers, I sometimes think we have placed on ourselves an unattainable goal. Deep inside we begin to believe that we are responsible for the life or death of our loved one. And we become helpless in the face of the inevitable; life in the body ceases to function and life in the spirit begins. Our loved ones depart houses no longer adequate to hold them and move onto a new dimension, while we remain behind, often shattered by our grief and shackled by our guilt. Our grief is only compounded when we are weighed down with guilt. The energy that we spend trying to desperately avoid the ultimate end is almost Herculean in nature. What we often do not realize is that at the end of human life exists a new beginning, not just for our loved ones but for us as well. And for many caregivers, the grief process can take much longer to work through. The guilt we carry slows the normal grief process as it drains the energy needed to work through it. 

The holidays can be particularly difficult as we begin to dwell more at this time of year on our loss. Holidays are a time for family, and when a loved one has died, it can make surviving this season almost an impossible task. For many, our first reaction is to just not celebrate the holiday in effort to avoid the pain of our loss. Perhaps it would be better to look at this time of year as a way in which to celebrate the life our loved one lived, and to recall the comfort and joy these family traditions brought us in the past. This can provide one the chance to create new traditions as well, and in doing so help to move forward in the grieving process. Whatever decision is made regarding the holidays, try to make it from your heart. Allow yourself to feel. By suppressing our feelings, we only prolong the pain. And ultimately prolong the grief. Follow your heart and do not let guilt for what should have been destroy your peace of mind. 

Guilt is destructive. It impedes our progress and inhibits our own destinies in this life. We spend our time berating ourselves for where we perceive failure instead of focusing on all the good we achieved, the quality of life we brought to our loved ones and the character development that ensued as a result. The best knowledge we can possess is that our efforts made a difference in the last days of our loved ones. There is no easy remedy for guilt. No magic formula we can use to erase it from our being. At best, it is an ongoing process, one that we must practice every day so that we can successfully eradicate guilt from our lives. We have to look in the mirror and confidently tell ourselves that we have done the best we were able to do. Given the tools we had to work with, we used our best judgement, and made caregiving decisions that we truly felt were in the best interest of all concerned. 

It takes discipline to focus on the attainment of a higher level of living for all of us as the mortal bonds are broken. However, our loved ones live on in our hearts forever and those eternal bonds remain. The memories can be used to comfort us that much sooner if only we can cast off the guilt that simply clouds our vision and torments our minds. Peace then comes as we realize and acknowledge that there was purpose to all we shared. The lessons learned change us and equip us to better empathize with those who follow after along our paths of experience. Release the guilt you carry and listen with your heart. You will truly find your loved ones not only dwell in peace, but wish the same for you as well. 

Dorothy Womack was caregiver to her mother for 14 years. Send comments to further reproduction by written permission only. 


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