about writing and life and God

Dementia Diary 16: Down with guilt

on October 26, 2012

Today, two old friends of my husband’s are visiting him and taking him out to lunch. They’ve done this before and generally have a nice time, so I’m hoping that they will today too.

One of them made a particular point of saying that today was therefore a day off for me. I suppose it is. I arranged to go out to lunch with a girlfriend and we had a nice time. But I admit to being a bit twitchy. My mind kept swinging back, like the needle on a compass, to my husband and his friends, wondering how they were getting on.

There is a big lie that people assume when your loved one goes into residential care. People say things like ‘You can get on with your life now’. They think you’ve acquired a kind of freedom. But you haven’t. Just because you don’t share a home, a table or a bed any more doesn’t sever the relationship, the bond between you. In fact, even when the other party no longer recognises you and the relationship has become completely one-sided, the bond remains.

But there is a change. Distance does not make the heart grow fonder. It often simply makes you worry more – because you no longer have the moment-to-moment information about how your loved one is doing. And visiting time can be extra painful because of the jolts to your heart as changes impact more on you.

And when you’re on your own, as well as the beastly loneliness, there’s the ever-ready-to-pounce guilt! Folk who don’t understand why your loved one is in care, folk who only saw them for half an hour and on a good day at that, may express their disapproval, suggest that what you’ve done is ‘dumped’ them.

Read my lips: you haven’t. And you haven’t stopped caring for them either. A friend of mine who has a lot of experience in the care world, says that it’s the people who really care for their loved ones who place them in residential care – because they want what is best for them.

And that’s what you want.

You haven’t dumped them. You haven’t stopped caring. You’ve accepted that your loved one needs more than you can provide and you have delegated that to people better able to provide it than you. Now your love and care needs to be channelled in a different way. You must decide how frequent your visits should be. Too many visits may be more to salve your conscience than to benefit your loved one – who may be less able to settle into their new environment as a result. (As the very wise manager of a care home said to me, ‘One day you will have to let go.’ Clinging on to the old relationship, simply makes it harder for both of you.)

Oh yes, you’ll struggle with guilt. We all do. And it is a complete and utter waste of time and energy, energy you need for more important things. But guilt is something we’re all good at. Guilt trips lie in wait at every turn. But they are traps.

As I sat with my friend, enjoying our lunch today, I felt the temptation to guilt-trip. Here I was enjoying myself, without my husband. I needed to remind myself that he too would be enjoying himself (I hope!). No need for guilt.

When you’ve done the absolute best that you can do, there simply is no reason to feel guilt. But there lies the trap: we tend to be perfectionists. We want to be the ones who do it all and do it perfectly. But nothing in this life is perfect, and we cannot do everything ourselves. So, today let’s declare a halt to the inner battle with guilt. And each time it raises its ugly face – as it will – stamp on it, fast and hard!

You’re doing your best. I’m doing my best (and even as I write this, my inner voice taunts me: “Are you? Are you really? Surely you could….”)

Down with guilt!

The text: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” Romans 8:1

Prayer: Lead us from the darkness, Lord Jesus, and into Your light. Take away our guilt and self-recrimination. Stop us from beating ourselves us up and give us instead Your reassurance that we are loved and accepted by You. Give us Your peace. Amen.

Self-care suggestion: Try practising today’s key phrases: “I’m doing my best’ and ‘Down with guilt!’ Write them down if you need to. Put them on sticky notes and put them on the mirror. Keep reminding yourself… because it’s true!





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