Guilt Thy Name is Caregiver

Alzheimer's disease was gradually robbing mom of her ability to walk, so more times than not, she used her wheelchair. With encouragement, she would sometimes walk for a short distance, holding both of my hands like a giant toddler.

I wheeled Mom outside into the care community's large secured garden. When the weather wasn't too hot or too cold we would spend time outside.

Under the leafy oak tree, I carefully locked the wheels on her wheelchair and spent several minutes coaxing her to stand and take a few steps. After a few steps, she began to lean precipitously toward the right. Since I was standing in front of her holding her hands, there was nothing I could do to stop her fall. I could only try to guide her to land on the grass instead of the cement, where I hoped she wouldn't be hurt.

It was a slow motion horror show, mom falling ever so slowly, me trying to steady and guide her so she wouldn't be hurt. Worse yet Mom's dead weight starts to pull me over and since I outweigh her by at least 100 pounds, I begin to worry that she won't be hurt by the fall but rather crushed to death by me. How on earth will I explain this to my father? I manage to fall to one side just missing my mom. As she lays on the ground like a beetle that's been turned over on its back, I get the look, half the feared mom of old Janice Marie you stop this nonsense right now, and half another fine mess you've gotten us into.

I spent about five minutes trying to figure out how I might lift my completely uncooperative mom back into her wheelchair before I have to swallow my pride and go inside for two caregivers to help me.

After mom was safely inside and our adventure was duly noted in her caregivers log, the accusations began to fly.

  • She could have been hurt, what were you thinking?
  • Don't you know that a broken hip could kill her?
  • Dad will be so mad.
  • You are just adding to his stress with your bad decisions.
  • You're here to give Dad a break, now hell never trust you to visit Mom on your own again.
  • You think you know better than her caregivers? They put her in that wheelchair for a reason.
  • Did you see the fear in her eyes as she was falling?
  • Who would be so cruel as to say those things to me? Me, Myself and I.

The truth is I've never been involved in any experience so rife with the possibility of guilt than caring for a relative. Caring for someone who was essentially helpless and without any judgment of her own, it was all on me. If I made a mistake, Mom paid the price.

If I was ever going to sleep again, I knew I need to follow the advice I share with my clients about coping with guilt.

Here's my 5 part process for stopping guilty thoughts in their tracks.

Step 1
I noticed the nasty voices in my head that were saying mean things to me about how I was reckless and stupid. These were the voices that told me that I might lose the love and trust of my father for my mistakes. Words like always and never were big clues that guilt was speaking, now he'll never trust me.

Step 2
I needed to get all that nastiness floating around in my head out of there. I wrote down all my guilty thoughts on a piece of paper.

Step 3
I took a deep breath and reviewed what I had written. Almost immediately, I could see that some of my thoughts were over the top. Not reality...not even close.

Step 4
Underneath each statement I wrote what was true. It looked something like this.

  1. She could have been hurt, what were you thinking?
  2. Mom wasn't hurt and I know that walking is good for her. Next time we practice walking, I'll get a helper.
  3. Don't you know that a broken hip could kill her?
  4. Mom has strong bones. I did a good job of protecting her when she fell so she wasn't hurt.
  5. Dad will be so mad.
  6. I'll explain what happened and tell him what I learned.
  7. You're here to give Dad a break, now hell never trust you to visit Mom on your own again.
  8. You made a mistake and Mom's OK. If Dad is worried, the two of us can talk it through.

Step 5
Sometimes, I found my mind wandering back to my mothers fall and my guilt tape starting to play again. Id notice, stop myself, repeat steps 1 though 4 if I needed to. After a while just noticing and stopping myself allowed me to turn off my guilty thoughts.
What do you do when you feel guilty while caring for a relative?