The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Caregiver Guilt

November is National Caregiver Month—the time for all of you caregivers to be specially recognized. You make it possible for your loved one to stay at home, or if they are in a care facility, to continue to get the best care possible and to feel loved—no small thing, that. Wives make up many of these caregivers. This is one wife’s story.

When my husband developed LBD, I felt I’d failed. I didn’t know what it was that I’d done or not done to keep Richard from succumbing to this awful disorder, but I must have been at fault. After all, it was my job as wife and mother to keep my family well. And when Richard became so ill that we had to move him to a nursing home, I felt I’d failed again. Once he was sick, it was my job, as a good wife, to take care of him. And now, I’d passed that job to someone else. I was physically unable to care for him at home, but still, it was my fault somehow. I’d failed again. I was so filled with guilt that I could hardly bear to look at Richard.

I forced myself to go to my support group and I admitted my awful guilt. I expected them to agree with me, to say they felt guilt too. And then we could wallow in it together. Some did. But one wise soul called me on my “pity pot.” She told me, “You are using guilt to try to control the past. And it doesn’t work. It just makes things worse. Look at what it’s done to you.”

I hated to admit it, but she was right. I was a wreck. I couldn’t sleep, I was living on junk food and I was hiding, even from my husband who, I knew, still needed me. I couldn’t stop Richard from getting LBD, or later, keep him at home, and so I tried to control fate with my guilt. And it wasn’t working. I didn’t feel in control at all.

“Let it go,” she said. “You are still Richard’s wife, and his caregiver. But guilt keeps you from doing either of those well—if at all. Let it go and get on with your life.”

I did. Every time I started feeling guilty, I made myself stop. That’s when I realized that my job was far from done. Richard needed me every bit as much as he had when he was home. I was his security, his emotional support. I was the staff’s resource for what worked and what didn’t work for him. Now that I don’t carry a huge load of guilt and I’m not burdened with all the physical care, I can be Richard’s wife again. What a blessing that is—for both of us.

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