Dear Mary
“What? You are going there again?”

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Dear Mary,

My husband gets sick of me talking about taking care of my parents. He really does not get it. He has never taken care of anybody in his life. He always yells at me and says: “What? You are going there again”. When I get home from taking care of my parents, he never asks about them. He really finds them a total inconvenience in our lives. I am trying to please everyone, but I am so unhappy, nothing is working.

Thanks

Annie

Hi Anne:

I am so sorry to hear that you are having such a rough time. Caregiving is often such a lonely road, with few who truly understand your journey. I can relate to many of your emotions.

In my situation, although I was honoured to be my parent’s principal caregiver for ten years, I really had to learn to put some balance back in my life. I was so focused on being the best caregiver / daughter that I could that I neglected my own health, my own family and friends. It was only in the last several years of caregiving that I truly was able to have peace and balance. I would like to share an idea or two that I developed to bring some balance back into my life. I hope that you find them of value.

Separate your worlds

Consider treating each major part of your life separately. Try not to let one flow into another. Unless I was dealing with a true emergency situation, overtime I developed the skill to focus on one part of my life at a time and let the others take a back seat. This gave me the ability to have great focus. Sometimes my parents were the focus. Sometimes when they were doing fine; I purposely put them in the back seat. This approach to managing my life did not always please everyone. I said to myself “who needs me the most”? I put my energies and time where they were best appreciated and mostly needed. This gave me peace and greatly reduced my stress.

  • When I was caring for my parents – they got all my attention. Rarely did I have my cell phone on, or deal with issues that did not relate to them. My time, energy and efforts were focused on making them safe, comfortable and as happy as possible. Never did I tell them about the pressures and stresses that caregiving brought to my life.
  • If I were out to dinner with my husband and friends, I purposely did not talk about my caregiving issues, stresses or problems. I focussed on the people with whom I was with at the moment. I quickly learned that people get ‘sick of hearing” caregiving stories. I learned not to share the details of my issues. It was hard at first not to share all my issues, but it became easier overtime. The less I shared, the less I had to explain, justify and fight about.
  • If you are at work, limit the number of caregiving issues and challenges that you share with colleagues. I have heard of many situations when employers become less tolerate of staff leaving work early and are now tracking lost productivity. The last thing you want to do is to be written up or lose your job because of your caregiving efforts.

Dealing with guilt

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 taking care of myself. I often called myself a “Living Band Aid” just barely keeping things “together” in every aspect of my life.

As caregivers, we try to be all things to all people. The lack of control, combined with the feeling that we are not doing the best for everyone, caused great guilt.

Guilt can be a powerful, often ugly beast. Often, we feel guilty when:

  • We have to leave the person we are caring for to head back to our own “worlds”
  • We are at work and not with them
  • We have to leave work to be with them
  • We don’t have time for our own family or friends
  • 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 replace ourselves with “things” in their lives
  • We don’t call or visit enough
  • Distance stops us from visiting and helping more often
  • The lack of money stops us from doing more
  • We don’t do our best for them

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 the people for whom you care and for yourself. That may sound odd, self-serving and selfish, but let me explain my idea.

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. Others may suffer or disagree with your decisions, but stay focused on doing the “right thing.”

In time, you will be able to look back and be glad you made the tough decisions to do the best for the people that you cared for. If you don’t do your best, then you should feel guilty. You will find comfort in being able to separate grief from guilt. This is a powerful gift that only you can give to yourself

In my situation, 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 that I could, based on my personal situation and the resources available to me. Because I have no guilt, I am at peace with myself.

As a final thought, caregiving has many rewards, but it also has many challenges. Balance comes over time. It comes with knowing that you are doing the best you can, with the resources at your disposal.

Good luck with creating some balance in your life.

Mary

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Caregiving Matters

Mary is a daughter. She also Chairs our charity. Mary has also held Director roles on three other boards, most recently with The Palcare Network of York Region.

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