Dealing with Caregiver Guilt

As usual, I was multi-tasking. I had one load of dirty clothes in the washing machine and one load of clean clothes running track in the dryer. The timer was set to notify me when the pot of potatoes I’d set to boil were be done enough to mash for Rodger’s lunch. I was trying to remember where I put the cordless phone. I didn’t want to scurry around looking for it when the nurse called to discuss the continuing fluctuations in his blood pressure.

And I was trying to figure out how to deal with the guilt.

I wanted be more like my friend, Dana. Dana does not multi-task, claiming that it takes less effort to do ten things consecutively than it does to try to do five things all at once and she insists that feeling guilty is a complete waste of her  time and energy.

“Get over it. Guilt is a useless emotion.” She is probably right. I just don’t know how she does it.

I tried doing fewer tasks at once but I never got down to doing only one thing at a time. No matter where I was or what I was doing part of my mind and most of my heart was with him. I went to sleep puzzling over how to add flavor to his diet of pureed food and thickened liquids.  I woke up wondering what his blood pressure reading would be.  I often stopped in mid step, listening to the too still air, hoping for a small cough or sneeze to signal he was still breathing.

Caring for him reminded me of caring for my babies the first days of their lives when they seemed too fragile to be of this world and I feared that any misstep on my part would bring disaster.

He had a heart attack. He almost died. Again. And I felt so guilty about that. Shouldn’t I have seen the signs before it got that far? Looking back, he did seem more tired than usual and his heart rate was slow enough for an alarm to be sent to his doctor through the tele-health monitor in our home.  Still, everyone agreed he seemed to be doing okay and the readings weren’t dangerously low.

“We know you’re taking good care of him,” his care coordinator said. “We’ll keep an on this for a day or two and see what happens.”

Now we know. A heart attack happened. I realize that his EKGs had been fine up to that day. I know he never complained of chest pain or shortness of breath until the moment the blood clot hit him. I know that I did the right thing when I called 911 right away.

“Time is critical in a situation like this, the paramedic explained. And you got us here fast. You did good.”I didn’t feel good. I felt guilty. I wanted to know how to deal with that.

And I wasn’t the only one to feel it.  Not by a long shot.My husband felt guilty because I spent most of my time caring for his father. On an especially hard day he apologized many times. ”My poor honey. I feel so guilty.”

kept telling him there was no reason for him to feel any guilt. He went s to work every day to earn the money that supported us. We planned for this long before it became necessary. We agreed on the division of labor. But still he felt it and it showed in his face even when he didn’t say it.

I understood.  My own father, older than Mike’s Dad, was also quite ill. He was being taken care of by his stepson in Florida while I cared for someone not of my blood.  I longed to go to him but I couldn’t and he didn’t to want to leave Florida. I cringed every time I heard him say, “I don’t know what I’d do without Brian.”

A cousin of mine, so close we are more like sisters than cousins, was filled with guilt because her mother was being cared for by her daughter. Grandmother and Granddaughter lived in the same town and shared a special bond.  My cousin lived across the country, visited often and called almost daily.

“She’s doing what I should be doing. I feel such guilt,” my cousin said.

“There is nothing wrong with your daughter being there for your mother. It’s what they both want, and she is on good hands. It’s okay,” I insisted. But in my heart I felt guilty for not having a better answer for her.

Rodger, my father, and my Aunt were all getting good care. The problem was not with them, it was with us. The caregivers. The ones who try to do it all and can’t.

The timer on the stove went off almost simultaneously with the buzzer on the dryer. The phone was ringing and Rodger was making his way down the stairs. I could deal with all that. That part was easy. But I needed to know how to deal with the guilt. How could I get over that?

When things finally settled down I picked up the phone and called Dana.

Is there someone you can call when the guilt starts getting to you? Everyone needs someone with whom to vent. If you don’t know where to turn, get in touch with me. I’m a great listener.

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