Making Promises That Change
We have all made promises with the best of intentions, only to realize that the promises we made were based more on hope than knowledge. A promise to a parent to always take care of them – no matter what – is a promise made with the best of intentions, but without a lot of knowledge about what life will be like when it’s time to try to make good on that promise. The reality of caring for a loved one with middle to late-stage dementia is impossible to imagine before being faced with it in actuality. So why do we feel so guilty and ashamed of ourselves when circumstances require us to find care for our loved ones outside of the home?
The simple answer is that guilt is part of caring and caregiving. As a caregiver, we are asked every day to make choices for our loved ones- choices about safety, medical care, and even what to do with home and property- that may go against their express wishes. And in the case of a person suffering from one of the many forms of dementia, overriding promises made before dementia robbed your loved one of a full understanding of their situation may be in their and your best interests.
Guilt and Grief Go Hand in Hand
When a person makes a promise – especially to a parent or child, we take that promise seriously. We have every intention of seeing through on the promise, which is why when circumstances prevent you from carrying out that promise, we are overcome with a sense of true disappointment and even guilt. Guilt is tied to the belief that you “should” be able to fulfill your promise of caring for your loved one until the very end. But all caregivers have limits – both in terms of your ability to deliver the kind of care that is needed, but also financial, time and emotional limits. It’s impossible to fully appreciate the pressures of prolonged and progressive caregiving can have, and for those of us who have been there- it can be exhausting, mentally and physically.
Taking care of someone who is dying or needs constant supervision, like those who are memory or cognitively impaired, can be a Herculean task. Being a caregiver to an elderly parent, working full time, and raising a family are almost impossible tasks to juggle. Even if you do not work outside the home, it is still a daunting challenge to meet all the demands placed on you. Easy solutions are not always available. Even hiring home health caregivers to help ease the situation can be fraught with its own set of problems that can be more stressful than doing it yourself. Plus, there is also the expense involved that many cannot afford.
Caregiving is an enormous task. And recognizing that sometimes doing our best is still not quite as much as what your loved one needs, can leave us feeling overwhelmed and sometimes “burned out”. Intense caregiving can affect our relationships with others, and our health and sense of well being can suffer frequently leaving us feeling as if we are failing ourselves as well as our loved ones. This loss of agency or sense of control opens the door for feelings of grief. We grieve over the loss of what was and the loss of our dreamed future together. Grief expresses itself in emotional, physical and psychological ways. We grieve in order to adjust and come to terms with losses that are important to us in our lives. And like guilt, grief reactions are a normal part of the caregiver’s journey.
Steps for Overcoming Guilt and Grief
- Know that these are normal reactions that originate in the love and care you feel for your loved one.
- Know that it is common to feel conflicting emotions. It’s OK to feel love and anger at the same time.
- Reach out for support from those you trust about your grief, guilt, and/or any other emotions you are experiencing surrounding moving your loved one.
- If other family members or friends are against a move to a Memory Care residence for your loved one, learn about your options and discuss everyone’s views and feelings together.
- Keep a journal. Write down the stressful events you have endured in addition to the proud moments you have experienced throughout the journey of caring for your loved one. Write at least one positive entry each day. But also chronicle the hard times as well- this can be helpful in terms of tracking issues, and help other members of the family better appreciate the day to day care challenges they may not experience personally.
- Think about what you expect from yourself. Ask yourself: “Is what I am feeling truly realistic? What do guilty feelings accomplish for me? What do they accomplish for my loved one?”
- Research Memory Care residences near you. Look for residences that offer a team approach and person-centered care, which has been shown to lead to better long-term outcomes.
- Take into consideration that having 24-hour care in a safe environment will help everyone involved, most of all, your loved one with dementia.
Trusting Your Loved One to Experts
Feelings of guilt and grief truly are a normal part of the caregiver’s journey. These feelings can be triggered by thoughts that the caregiver should or could be doing more. Or they can arise when it becomes clear that promises made at a different time in your life can not safely or reasonably be kept. If and when that time comes, choose a Memory Care environment that can offer your loved one some of the medical and safety needs that are now beyond your ability to offer.
Choose a caring environment where your loved one is treated as you would treat them and where Person-Centered Care is offered. Choose an environment where Memory Care residents receive their care from a team of specialists who understand your journey as well as your loved ones. In Lower Bucks County, PA, that place is Chandler Hall. When your loved one’s needs are beyond your ability to safely provide, choose our family at Chandler Hall to help you fulfill your promise of always caring and always providing. Download Chandler Hall’s brochure Navigating the Journey of Memory Care.