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Shining Light: A Guilty Caregiver's Story

It is common for family caregivers to feel guilty. In her article The Guilty Caregiver, Leslie Vandever, a journalist by profession, shared her own guilt journey over 3 years while caring for her mother. Her account conveys how acknowledging, assessing, and assisting through the adversity and losses can shine a light towards resolve and relief from your guilt.

Leslie disclosed that historically from childhood she had not been really close to her mother, being more partial to her dad. After her dad died, contact with her mom was limited to the holidays and occasional phone conversations. “This worked for both of us”.

The distant relationship created feelings of loss and guilt for Leslie when she went to stay temporarily with her mother who needed help due to a sciatica condition. Once in her mother’s home, she was shocked by the other chronic conditions her mother had been living with that she knew nothing about. This left her feeling "ashamed and guilty". The situational loss of her mother’s health and loss of connection over the years left her with a loss of self-pride and loss of competence as a daughter. “What a selfish, uncaring daughter I’d been! Dad would have been so disappointed! What was wrong with me?"

Due to the high care needs, Leslie's stay had to be extended. After a year, she felt resent for having to provide care full-time. "My own life was on perpetual hold with no reward beyond my own sheepish, martyr-like pride in being so selfless. Which made me feel even more ashamed and guilty".

After a few years of providing care 24/7, acknowledging, assessing, assisting herself through the emotional turmoil from her losses, Leslie arrived at a place of resolve and relief from the guilt. While researching about caregiving online, she acknowledged and assessed that the guilt due to perceived neglect, wanting her life back and feeling resentful were normal. Leslie also assisted herself by allowing a shift to occur in the mother-daughter relationship that drew them closer than they had ever been. "Mom and I are nurturing a new relationship we wouldn’t have had if sciatica hadn’t clipped her wings. There’s a tenderness growing between us that wasn’t there before."

“I realized that I could only do my best—and that my best is good enough.”

Those words and the closer relationship with her mother brought Leslie peace and resolve from acknowledging, assessing and assisting herself through the guilt feelings to a healthier state. Great relief came from the awareness that her guilt feelings were normal. Leslie was not alone and neither are you.

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