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Posted: October 04, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Hurt and Guilt -- the Same in Caregivers as Children

If there's one thing is for sure in this caregiving world, it's that we all have feelings. And those feelings sometimes are very fragile, and we can be hurt or affected by the most obscure things in meeting our caregiving challenge.

Just ask John and Maxine. John needs to move away from home but he feels guilty even thinking about it ? his feelings are getting the best of him. Maxine feels hurt because her mother feels she has to work all the time when she visits with her children. What should they both do?

These are the latest questions on my brimming e-mailbag. Will your question be next up?


Dear Jean:

After a long marriage and a divorce, I moved back home a year ago to get my life straightened around. I am 42 years old. Since then, my mom has been diagnosed with a disease that causes her digestive system to not work the way it should. She is in the hospital about every two weeks or so to get fluids and nourishment. I have a sister who lives 10 minutes away who has been a great help to me and my mom. My mom gets along OK but when she takes ill and needs fluids again, it is off to the hospital.

This is my dilemma. I want to move out. I need to be on my own. I need privacy and need to get out there on my own. I am dealing with the guilt of moving out and leaving her home alone. But I have got to get out on my own. Desparately. Can you help me?

John F., San Francisco

Dear John:

I understand your need to be on your own. Don't feel guilty about not wanting to stay and take care of your mother. Your feelings are so common with family caregivers that it has a name: caregiver guilt.

Caregiver guilt means that you feel guilty because you are not superhuman. Just remember that no one is perfect -- and that includes you. You simply cannot do everything. You are important, and you need to think about your future. Don't down play that point.

There are many reasons why people can't take care of their parents. Sometimes it is needs like yours and sometimes it's other family responsibilities or physical distance. I took care of Mom and Dad but there were situations that I knew I couldn't handle. I was always aware of the possibility of needing to put my parents in a nursing home. 

You are not obligated to take care of your mother yourself, but you do need to make sure she gets the best care possible. What you should do depends on your mother's long-term situation. Is your mother strong enough to take care of herself all the time or just part of the time? Does she have a deteriorating disease? What does the doctor say about how long she will live? What does he say about her living independently?

There are several things you could arrange for your mother, depending on her condition and abilities. Someone could live with her?a professional caregiver or a companion. She could move into an assisted living facility. She could move into a nursing home. She could move in with your sister.

Check around the area where you live and find out exactly what is available. Then sit down with your mother and sister to discuss the situation. Explain how badly you need to live on your own, but stress that you want to make sure your mother safe and well taken care of. The next thing to do is explain what is available for your mother. Discuss everything and try to come up with a solution. You mother might not want to leave her home, but I'll bet she realizes that she probably won't be able to live there much longer.


Dear Jean:

My mom is 75 and has never been sick until this summer. She had a heart arrhythmia which has been corrected with medication. However, her attitude toward life has changed. She seems to feel sick and has lost her once-daring attitude. I have been a loving daughter by setting up events at my house for her to attend, and visiting her with my two children. They are well behaved. I live one hour from her.

My sisters informed me that my children make Mom nervous and feels like she has to cook while we are there, and after we leave she is tired. Her response has made me feel very bad and it affects my children. Of course I still want to be available and help. I cancelled the last event and haven't called her since.

Did I do the right thing by backing off and instead letting her call us? I love her but she needs to be more careful with my children's feelings. I feel hurt since I spent a weekend in the hotel to be near and take care of her while she was in the hospital. Thanks.

Maxine M., Boise, Idaho

Dear Maxine:

The first thing I would do is call your Mom set a time when you can go visit her without your children. Tell her you are bringing lunch and that you don't want her to do anything to prepare for your visit. At this visit, discuss the situation with her. Communication is so important and you won't settle anything by not talking to her. In fact, she may be wondering why you haven't called.

When there are heart problems, quite often the person does become very tired. Perhaps she feels sick because of her heart problems or because of the medications, which often are powerful. Someone (you?) should check with a doctor to ask about both those problems.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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