Guest post by Leslie Vandever
My caregiving career with my mother started when she developed sciatica and was barely able to care for herself. At the time, I expected that she’d need me for a few weeks. Maybe a month, at the most. I packed a small suitcase and settled into her guest room.
What followed was a seemingly endless parade of appointments with doctors, physical therapists, and lab tests. Finally, months later, a chiropractor actually relieved Mom’s pain and got her back on her feet.
Mom and I had never been close, not even when I was a child.
But by then, a number of other issues Mom had been coping with for several years (but had never mentioned to me) came to light. She had debilitating chronic nausea and migraines. A chronic low heart rate left her weak and breathless. Her balance was precarious. Her memory was spotty and getting worse, and her long battle with sciatica had taken a toll in strength and resilience.
Mom and I had never been close, not even when I was a child. Like many daughters, I was partial to my dad. He passed away in 2005, and without his unifying presence, Mom and I grew even further apart. We met up during the holidays and spoke occasionally on the phone. It worked for both of us.
Discovering that Mom had been ill for a long time—even before the sciatica—stunned me. I felt guilty and ashamed of myself. What a selfish, uncaring daughter I’d been! Dad would have been so disappointed! What was wrong with me?
I felt guilty and ashamed of myself.
Well, that was three years ago. Today, I’m still ensconced in Mom’s guest room, and I take care of her 24/7. She’s not sick or impaired enough for a nursing home, but she can’t safely live alone because of her memory and balance issues. There’s no money for assisted living or professional caregivers. My sister does what she can, but she lives several states away.
So I’m the one.
For the first year, wracked with guilt, I tried to get to know my mom better as I cared for her. We grew a little closer. The second year, when it became clear that Mom really needed 24/7 help, I began to feel resentful. 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.
My own life was on perpetual hold with no reward beyond my own sheepish, martyr-like pride in being so selfless.
It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to accept and release my guilt. The emotional distance between my mother and I has always been mutual. She didn’t tell me about her illnesses because she was proud of her independence—and she didn’t want to burden me or my sister.
I also began reading online about baby boomers and caring for ill—or simply elderly parents. I discovered my situation with Mom is far from unique. Feeling guilty for perceived neglect, for feeling resentful, angry, or overwhelmed, guilt for neglecting my own needs and responsibilities (or for attending to them), and for wanting my own life back is normal. It’s so common, it even has a name: caregiver guilt. My worries about doing things right, and whether I should be doing even more, are also normal.
In the end, I realized that I could only do my best—and that my best is good enough. 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. And we’re both more patient—and forgiving—with each other than we’ve ever been.
In the end, I realized that I could only do my best—and that my best is good enough.
There are lots of resources for caregivers. I’ve listed several in the references below. You can find more information about this and other health-related subjects by clicking here.
Leslie Vandever is a family caregiver, a professional journalist, and a freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.
For more information click on:
- Caregivers. National Institutes of Health
- Caring for the Caregiver. National Cancer Institute, June 2007
- Caregiving Resource Center. American Association of Real Possibilities (AARP)
- Alzheimer’s Blog: Tips for Caregivers to Help Lessen the Guilt, Mayo Clinic, November 12, 2013
- Managing Caregiver Emotions, American Association of Real Possibilities (AARP), November 7, 2013