Caregiver Regrets, Remorse and Prizes

By on July 8, 2015
Senior female whisper nurse

Someone asked me recently how to deal with the fear and caregiver regrets they feel. Fear because their parents are dying, fear because their world is changing; regrets that they didn’t do this or that to stop the inevitable from happening.

Frankly, most of these regrets are simply from being human. We get burned out, tired out, exhausted… so we don’t answer quite as patiently the 4th time we’re called to come help just after we finally sat down for a minute’s rest. We refuse to cater to a truly selfish whim that really is above and beyond what anyone should expect of us. We feel guilty for having limits, or boundaries; guilty if we take a few minutes for ourselves, to attend to our own needs or wants.

The thing is, we’re all just doing the best we can. Different people have different strengths, and different talents, and different amounts of patience, stamina and endurance. Unfortunately, too many try to compare their own efforts with others’, and come up short in their minds. And so the regrets and remorse and guilt set in.

We’re caregivers. Think about that for a minute. WE GIVE CARE. We give it freely, of our own choice, out of necessity or a sense of duty, or out of love. You cannot compare that with what anyone else does or gives. It’s not a competition or a race.

ask_2Although there are “prizes”. The prize of knowing that we did what we could do to the best of our current ability each day. And if that level of ability changed from day to day, well, that’s life, and we’re only human. (Christianity tells us there’s only been one perfect human being in this world, and I know for a fact it ain’t me!)

We have the prize of knowing that we gave our love to someone, unconditionally, and made that person happier and more comfortable. This prize includes all the little things we do for our loved ones, as well as the big things.  All the little shared moments, all the little jokes and joys and memories.

And there’s the prize, after the caregiving is over, of NOT being buried under remorse for not showing up and doing what we could.

Think for a minute about what your loved one’s life would be like if you were not there to do what you do. How would that person be cared for, if not for you? Who would that person turn to for help if you weren’t there – and would whomever they turned to actually help them? How much? What would happen if you hadn’t stepped up to care?

Yes, there will be little things that you regret in days to come. I personally am sorry that I refused to give my mom a pedicure. I loathed doing pedicures in cosmetology school, and avoided them whenever possible. For my mom to suddenly shove her foot practically up into my face (she was in her recliner at the time) to demand that I “do her toes” and rub her feet – just when I was about to leave, too – really annoyed me. I told her I didn’t do toes, kissed her forehead, and came home. How could I know that the following week she would fall, and in just a little over 2 weeks after that fall, she would be dead? I’m sorry that I was occasionally impatient with her because she called me 3 or 4 times a day to ask the same things over and over, or that I was sometimes in a hurry to leave her and come home, because I was tired after working all day.  But what mattered was that I was there as often as I was, that I did do all the myriad other things I did for her.               Caregiver Relief member banner 250X250

Others I know have felt guilt that they were not present when their loved one died. I was not present when my father died. I had gone home after an all-night vigil, after being at the hospital for at least 16 hours a day every day for the past week, after weeks and months of constant attendance on him, even staying up all night to care for him so my mom could sleep. He died about an hour after I left. I felt so guilty… but then I realized that it was more important that I had been there all those weeks before. The things I did do for him were things that made him more comfortable, made a difference in his care, in how he felt. My being there at the moment of his death was not necessary; I could not do anything that the nurses couldn’t do better.

And to my friends who have gone through the same thing, I say, “You were there when it mattered. That’s what counts, that’s what’s important.”

For every moment that I can look back on with regret there are so many more moments I can remember that bring a smile. The hours I sat with her, asking questions about family history, writing it all down in a journal someone had given her. The time her pastor served her Communion using the last of the chocolate cake I’d brought her, instead of wafers – because he said that Communion was supposed to be a joyful thing, and what’s more joyful than chocolate cake? The time she told me that when she reflected on all the blessings God had granted her, she realized that I was the greatest blessing she had. (That one really stunned and humbled me!) And with my father, the day the nurse told me Daddy had said he always felt more relaxed and at ease when I was there, because he knew I’d take care of him.  The jokes about my learning to take his blood pressure, give him shots, empty his Foley bag.  I can remember so many other times, little moments that don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but were just those precious, shared moments we are lucky to have….

For the caregivers I know, there are too many times they castigate themselves over faults that only they can perceive. They are too slow to recognize the very wonderful contributions they make to everyone else’s lives, too slow to realize just how incredibly wonderful they are. Too slow to take care of themselves, because they are too busy caring for everyone else. And some of them are already fearing being burdened with regrets and remorse, because they are too modest to realize – much less admit – that they are, in fact, the kindest, most caring people around, and pretty awesome in their own rights!

They are the best kind of people to have around, the best kind of people to know.

Meet Judy Morton

Anticipatory Grief and Life After Loss                 stress-cd1

Compassion Burnout, a Harsh Reality for Many Caregivers

New Role- End of Life Care Advocate

Dying to Know the Straight Talk About Death? Visit a Death Cafe

6 Comments

  1. Nancy

    July 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you this was so needed for me today

  2. Jim Gutierrez

    July 10, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    I keep kicking myself because of all the times I lost my temper and for all “some day” things I never got to do. Thank you for this post as it struck very close to home for me. I always felt so alone…this makes me feel like it wasn’t just me. And maybe I didn’t do such a bad job for my mom.

    • Diane Carbo

      July 11, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Jim,
      As caregivers, we always beat ourselves up so often. We are all human and so may times we push ourselves beyond our own capabilities. WE neglect our own needs and health to provide care for another. We are all doing the best we can at the time. Caregiving is a hard job and so many feel lonely and unsupported.
      Jim, you did an amazing job with your mom. God bless you!

  3. April

    July 10, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    What a great article. 🙂 the little things you do, and don’t even realize your doing, make such an impact on the lives of those your caring for. It is important not to burn out, that you take a break once in awhile. there are services you can use to give you respite care while you rest up to be the best caregiver you can be. Check out Upliftcare.com it’s an App that you can book care on Demand.

  4. Dave Savage

    July 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Judy, You made many great points in your article about regrets. One regret you mentioned of not being with your loved one, when they died, is more easily soothed. A very high percentage of people actually wait until nobody is in the room to die. They don’t want to leave that image in their loved one’s memory or don’t want to experience.

    An additional regret that you didn’t mention, and that can be reduced long before their has been an illness or accident is about not having recordings of the sharing of personal and family stories. The Story Corps segments, on public radio, are an example of how meaningful this can be. In our book we provide lots of unique ideas for bringing out the stories and recording them. The topics also include unique ideas for including heartfelt elements into a funeral or memorial service, to have a more meaningful and satisfying experience. This too minimizes some future regrets. Dave Savage – co -author HeartfeltMemorialServices.com

    Judy, we’d love to connect with you to include some of your writing on our website.

  5. Karen C

    July 17, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing this.There is so much careful planning involved and there can also be so much guilt and regret if you don’t think you’re helping enough or making the wrong decisions! I had so much anxiety starting this process and I find it so comforting to find so many blogs and books that can help from start to finish. This article really reminded me of a book that was recommended to me recently by author Pamela Wilson called “The Caregiving Trap” (http://pameladwilson.com/book/). The author is a leading expert in the caregiving industry both professionally and personally and she provides insight for both the caregiver and the recipient in this amazing book. She has helped me to “remove my rose colored glasses” and accept all the challenges of caring for an aging parent so I am prepared for my mother’s declining health, her increasing care needs and the financial/emotional costs involved. I cannot say enough about this wonderful guide. Hope you and your readers will check it out

Leave a Reply