Dealing with guilt

Dear Mary,

My Mother has had a stroke and is in a nursing home, my Dad lives with us and is starting to have memory issues. My husband and kids don’t understand that I am stressed, and my boss is getting tired of me taking time off to take my Dad to his medical appointments. I feel guilty about everything!


Dear Sandy:

Sounds like your life is full – too full. I remember when I could barely breathe with all the things I had to do in my day to manage my parents, their home, their appointments, my own household, my responsibilities and relationships. There never was any real thought about myself or keeping current with my friends.

As caregivers, we try to be all things to all people. I often called myself a “living Band Aid” just barely keeping things going. The lack of control, combined with the feeling that we are not doing the best for everyone, causes us great guilt.

Guilt can be a powerful, often ugly beast. Having parents with declining health causes us guilt. Here are just a few examples:

  • We have to leave them to head back to our own “worlds”
  • We just don’t have the time to sit and have a cup of tea
  • We are impatient with how they are changing mentally and physically
  • We force them into some form of assisted living facility
  • We replace ourselves with “things” in their lives
  • We don’t call, visit or bring the kids by enough
  • We don’t do our best

The guilt can be is endless. The energy we have to deal with it is not.

How do we handle all the guilt? The simplest answer I found is: Do your best, both for them and for yourself. That may sound odd, self-serving and selfish, but let me explain my idea.

I assume you are a loving, caring person who only wants the best for your parents. As adult children we are often faced with making decisions on their behalf. Your decisions should be based on what will cause you the least amount of guilt.

Now that both my parents are dead, I can honestly say that I have no guilt about how I helped them. I can clearly separate grief from guilt. I miss them terribly, but know that I gave them everything I could, based on my situation, my resources. Because I have no guilt, I am at peace with myself.

Everyone’s situations and resources are different. We all have to make tough decisions that fit our worlds and our hearts. The result may not be perfect, but life is not perfect either. Reduce your guilt by doing the best that you can for them. Others may suffer or disagree with your decisions, but stay focused on doing the “right thing.”

When your parents are dead, you will be able to look back and be glad you made the tough decisions to do the best for them. If you don’t do your best, then you should feel guilty.

So, do your best for them, based on the resources available to you. This will take care of your heart and decrease you guilt. You will find comfort in being able to separate grief from guilt. This is a powerful gift that only you can give to yourself.

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1 Comment

  1. When you are on an airplane, the emergency instructions tell you to help yourself before helping anyone else. Why? Because when you’re out of air, you become someone who needs help, not someone who can help.

    Likewise, you need to find peace with yourself and free yourself of guilt, before you can truly help your family.

    You honestly are doing the best you can for your family. I promise.