Life with MS

The Irony of Caregiver Guilt

By Gary Barg
After eight years of taking care of both of her parents by herself, Mary had a stroke. The stroke affected her mobility and leg strength, but most importantly to Mary, it meant her caregiving days were over. Her doctor said if she went back to full-time, around-the-clock caregiving, she would likely predecease her 86- and 89-year-old parents.
Because Mary’s siblings lived out of state and offered no help, long-term care placement would have to be found for her parents before she was released from the hospital. Mary's guilt about no longer being able to be the direct caregiver for her parents led to a clinical depression and affected her own rehabilitation.
In desperation, Mary contacted a therapist who helped her see that she had given her parents eight years of the best, most loving care she could, even at the expense of her own health. The therapist also pointed out that as much as Mary’s parents might not like living in a long-term care facility, they would like it even less if she was institutionalized somewhere with a massive stroke, or dead because of the caregiving she provided for them. That helped ease the caregiver guilt a bit for Mary, and though she struggles with it still, there's more she can find to be grateful for than to feel guilty about. After all, she kept both parents at home for eight years, diligently handled their finances and kept them both healthy and safe.
Regardless of the illness or disease with which your loved one is struggling, it is all too easy to find yourself in the clutches of caregiver guilt, despite the fact that you have nothing to feel guilty about. Another thing Mary began to realize through her therapy sessions was that her guilt was slowly giving way to another feeling – gratitude.
“I am grateful that I was given the chance to do all of this for them,” Mary said. “I'm sad it wasn't until the end of their lives, but I am grateful it was for as long as it was. Gratitude keeps me from sinking to the depths of despair over the guilt...and it also helps me put everything into perspective.”
I couldn't have said it better myself.
The fearless caregiver's guide to beating caregiver guilt
• Recognize your feelings of caregiver guilt.
• Understand the family dynamics with which you are dealing.
• Learn to appreciate all you do as a caregiver.
• Do not feel ashamed to share your feelings.
• Take the time to care for yourself.
Gary Barg is the founder and editor-in-chief of the first national magazine for caregivers, Today’s Caregiver, as well as the original online caregiver community,