Guilt and Caregiving

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Guilt. It seems to be an ever present shadow in this journey of caregiving and grieving.

Some people seem to be able to say, “I’ve done all I can do.” And stop and feel okay. Maybe I have a better imagination, or a more developed guilt complex, but I can pretty much always think of something more I could do, or should do, or could’ve or should’ve done.

I was talking to a friend at church a month ago, and she was expressing regrets and guilt about having her mom in a nursing home. She said she never wanted to have one of her loved ones in such a place again.

And I told her, “Hey, we kept my mom at home her whole life, and I still feel guilty that I didn’t do enough.” And this is after years of giving her showers, changing her, cleaning their house and messes, arranging challenging doctor appointments, feeding her meals, cuddling and singing with her, etc.

And now that I’m grieving Dad, and even though between my brothers and I we were with him for hours each day the last three months of his life, when he was in the hospital and rehab and hospice, I still think of more things I wish I’d done for him. And I have regrets.

And now as we care for my 95 year old mother-in-law, who is living with us and is deep into Alzheimer’s, I continue to struggle. She would be happiest having someone next to her all day long, trying to explain her confusion away over and over. When I just sit with her I feel guilty that I’m not getting other work done. And when I’m getting other work done, I feel guilty that I’m not right with her.

And so whatever I’m doing I’m often having this nagging sense that I should be doing something else. And It’s hard to know how much I should do and what’s okay not to do.

I remember when Dad was very sick and in hospice care. The doctor had told us she thought he had a few months to live. He seemed stable to me. I didn’t know it was the last time Dad would be able to communicate with me, when I told him that I was having all the kids over to celebrate April birthdays the next day.

He said, “Don’t do it.”

“Why not, Dad?”

“It takes too much time.”

And I still don’t know if he thought it was too hard on me, or if he was wanting me to spend more time with him. Did he know he was that close to dying? My brothers were with him the next day, as I had my children and grandchildren over and we were celebrating. And later, some time in the middle of the night, Dad took a turn.

And the next morning I got an early call to, “Come now!” But Dad couldn’t talk anymore. I’m thankful I was there to hold his hand. I’m grateful I could tell him once more that I loved him before he passed on. But If I had known that was to be his last night on earth, I wouldn’t have had a party. I would have been with him all night.

I would have been trying to comfort him. I would have done more.

And that’s the challenge of caregiving. There is more to life than just the one who needs care.

There are other family members who need love. There are new grandchildren to know and cherish. There are friendships to nurture and homes to manage. There are bills that need to be paid responsibly. There is a church family to worship with and a marriage to pour into.

Knowing how to balance all these needs is hard. Really hard. And in the end, how do you know if you made the right choices or not? And what do you do with the ever-present guilt?

I know God doesn’t want us to live in unresolved guilt. So, I remind myself, that God forgives. And I remind myself that I was doing what I could manage at the time. And that we need to pace ourselves. We need to have balance.

And I know that Mom and Dad wouldn’t want me living in guilt. And as my husband told me, “None of this is bothering them now.” I know they are in perfect paradise with Jesus.

And I pray that I will have ears to hear the Holy Spirit and His promptings. I pray my heart will be sensitive to His leadings and that I keep in step with Him. Because If I’m where He wants me to be, obeying Him hour by hour and moment by moment, then there is no cause for guilt. And if it creeps in anyway, I can rebuke it.

Because God knows where He wants me.  And He wants to direct me and guide me. And He wants me to live in His peace. And I do, too.

Help me Lord, to walk closely with you.

“The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose water never runs dry.” Isaiah 58:11 (CSB)

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9 comments

  1. This is totally beautiful and honest! We all feel like you when they pass but I’ve learned to dwell on what I’ve done not what I didn’t do.

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  2. As usual, you are right on time with your blog. Next week has been a year since Daddy joined Mama and Jesus. I occasionally still wake with anxiety that I should have done more…even though as your words say I know at the time I did what I could navigating rough waters. The night I left Daddy for the last time, I truly thought I had one more day or I would have stayed. That wasn’t God’s plan though. I prayed at 12:30 that it was time for Daddy to be at peace, go home… 12:45 AM, my prayer was answered .
    Not a day passes I don’t question myself, but I don’t question God. I’ve told you before your blog has been the best therapy, you have said what I could not say and reminds me to seek balance. Thank you and still praying for you as you are still walking in this valley.

  3. Thank you so much, Wanda. I’m grateful to hear my blog has been a help to you! I know it has helped me to write it!
    I love that you can question yourself without questioning God. May He give you continued healing and grace. Thank you so much for your encouraging words and prayers!
    ~Cheryl

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