Guilt—A Wasted Emotion
by Donna Scrafano
Caring for a loved one can be, the most stressful job one may experience throughout a lifetime. In addition to the numerous tasks involved and the many, many roles one must play (nurse, doctor, advocate, parent, protector, domestic manager, accountant, chauffer, etc.), there’s also the “guilt” factor. I spent my entire career counseling individuals about guilt being a “wasted emotion.” Guilt keeps one stuck or frozen. When we are caught up in this debilitating emotion, we’re unable to make decisions or to move forward. Furthermore, we’re unable to make clear decisions for our loved ones who depend on our every faculty of decision making.
Having this philosophy about guilt did not, however, render me completely free from such feelings. Small waves of guilt would flush through my body regarding just about all aspects of care attached to my father’s well being. Was I doing things correctly? Was I preparing the most healthy meals for his special diet? Was I keeping him safe from falling, scammers and the unknown? And so on.
When I decided to have my father attend an adult day program, I toured several programs. This is a definite requirement. I finally chose the one that not only came highly recommended but also met all of my expectations, including my gut intuition. When my father first attended the program, I was still employed part time. As my father’s needs became greater, I decided to retire all together. But then, I felt more guilt because I was no longer employed. As a result, I thought I couldn’t justify my father participating in the daily program of activities. I also allowed negative commentary from a clueless sibling to affect my already stressed out thinking. Unfortunately, this is what we do more times than not. We allow negativity to override the positivity. My advice, to myself and others, is: Stop! Stop! Stop! Remove the guilt and move forward.
What I did is what we as caregivers need to do: pay close attention to the positives of our choices; engage with supportive people who understand the processes of caregiving; follow through with ideas that will benefit our loved ones; remove negative commentary and toxic people from your life; and, most definitely, follow through with ideas that benefit you as well.
Having had my father attend the adult day program was the best decision I made for both of us. Instead of sitting at home falling asleep in his chair or staring at the TV, he was socializing, engaged in making crafts, singing songs, learning current events, participating in holiday events, having meals with peers, all while being totally supervised by loving, caring staff the entire time. He did not fall asleep or even doze. When I picked him up, he would tell me about his day. All this activity was certainly healthier than being confined at home. When my father fell asleep after attending the program, I would feel relieved rather than guilty because I knew he was truly tired from participating in activities and not from boredom or lack of interest.
There was a time my father missed going to his program when he was ill and needed skilled nursing care. When he returned to the program, he was greeted by staff and peers cheering his name while welcoming his return. The ear-to-ear smile on my father’s face was priceless—additional confirmation that the decision to have him attend was indeed a great benefit for him.
I also learned to disregard any guilt attached to the benefits I received from my father attending his program or any other decisions I had to make for him. It is very important for the caregiver to engage in self-care. If we do not take care of ourselves, we can become ill or burn out. If that happens, who will provide care to our loved one? While my father attended the daily activities, I was able to schedule my own doctor appointments, hair-dresser appointments, do grocery shopping, etc. And most importantly, I was able to indulge in some self-care. As women, most of us were trained to put our own needs last. We need to re-program our brains to keep our needs in the front line, otherwise we will not survive this extremely stressful time in our lives.
Dump the guilt, dump the co-dependency, dump the martyr complex, and please dump those negative, useless people who cause you additional heartache. It will get you nowhere except to make you more stressed in an already extremely stressful situation.
Artwork “Conscience” and “There” by Sergey Kharlamov (aka kharlamov).
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna’s relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her six grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends, and applying self-care. Her current full-time position is care-taking her 90+ year-old father.