I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt lately. I guess it started around Thanksgiving time. I reflected on this time last year, and how upset and frankly selfish I was, when I saw that Mom was sick again and knew I was going to be stuck in New Mexico performing Caregiving, Round 2 instead of being home with my family. I think I was just burnt out from the past several months, spending all summer and fall tending to Mom’s needs. By November of last year, I desperately wanted a return to normalcy, but I didn’t get it. It didn’t help that Mom felt lousy and was in a fighting mood.
Fortunately for Mom, she has been able to wash all of these bad memories from her mind. Sometimes I resent her for not remembering all of the ugly things she said or did, but then I realize that it would do me good if I could also cleanse myself of these toxic thoughts. Mom has apologized and says often what an amazing daughter I am and how much she loves me, so our relationship is fine. It’s me that needs fixing now.
I also still harbor guilt about not coming to Mom’s aid sooner, the first time she was sick. I knew almost from the get-go that it was probably cancer. Mom was doing all of the right things, going to the doctors, but she lives in a small town and they were taking their sweet time in determining a diagnosis. In the meantime, I called Mom ever day, great, but she was getting sicker and weaker with every passing day. I had a new job that I wasn’t entirely thrilled with, so I didn’t even have work as an excuse. I just didn’t think I could handle another parent being sick so soon after Dad’s passing, which was just six months prior. So I waited three weeks before finally visiting her. I shudder to think if I had waited a week, even days longer.
If Mom’s cancer had been diagnosed sooner, her surgery may not have been as complex and she probably would have been treated in a hospital near her home versus being transferred over an hour away. I could have stayed at Mom’s condo for free instead of all of those nights in hotel rooms, so I wouldn’t be saddled with so much credit card debt now. Maybe she would have recovered quicker and I would not have had to quit my job (a year later and I still have not been able to find full-time employment again).
But then I think about the positives of the situation. First, if Mom had recovered quicker in the hospital, she may never have developed blood clots. It was an unfortunate complication, but if it hadn’t happened, I would not have taken seriously my 23 & Me genetic testing results that says I have a 60% higher risk of blood clots than the average person. Now if I land in the hospital for an extended amount of time, I will demand preventative measures to reduce my risk. This new found knowledge could potentially save my life! (As an aside, I think it is ridiculous that the FDA is trying to shut down 23 & Me’s genetic testing kits. All they offer is information, which they already indicate may not be 100% accurate. It is up to the user to decide how to proceed with that information.)
Another positive: If Mom had recovered quicker from her first surgery, her oncologist stated she would have started her on chemo. This would have been a disaster. When Mom was just starting to feel better and getting her strength back, she would have been knocked back down again. So far, she is doing well without the harsh followup treatment. (They found three polyps during her colonoscopy exam; results will be in on Monday.)
And yes, I’m still grappling with not being there for Dad during that last month of his life. I know all I can do is share my experiences and try to help others find the light as they make their way through the murky, treacherous swamp that caregivers must wade through.
How do you cope with caregiver’s guilt?