The Guilt Factor when it Comes to Our Elderly Parents

Both my husband and I have been dealing with issues surrounding our elderly parents. Maybe by expressing our experiences, it will help other people to sort out their feelings and choices and maybe lessen the guilt factor a bit.

My family’s situation was very different than my husband’s. My father died at a young age, so my mother lived alone and independently for many years. When she was in her late seventies, we noticed a decline in her mental state. Yes, it was the beginning of Alzheimer’s. My siblings and I did all that we could to help our mother remain independent, but eventually, it was impossible to do so. We looked into assisted living facilities, all the while worrying about our mother becoming too incapacitated to be living alone. She eventually had a health problem that put her into a rehab facility for a short period of time. We then realized, with the guidance and opinions of health professionals along with toilet aids for elderly Australia, that it was time for our mother to have 24/7 care.

It still was a difficult decision. We were not a wealthy family, so the sale of my mother’s home was the only money we had to pay a nursing home to care for our mother. We went through the agony of clearing out her possessions and going through with the sale of her house. One slight humorous note was that while going through her belongings, we realized that our mother saved thousands of plastic bags and kept them in every nook and cranny of her house. None of us knew that. When we visited Mom, everything looked tidy, but beneath the surface were these plastic bags that I guess she felt might be needed someday. We had a good laugh over that.

I believe we made the right decision. Our mother ended up in a very nice facility that tended to her every need. Not only did they take care of her health needs, but they had a spot in the facility that did her hair and put nail polish on her nails. When we visited our mother, we felt she was well cared for. It took a lot of burden off of us. My siblings and I are all in our forties and fifties and had jobs and families and obligations that made it difficult to tend to the many needs of an elderly Alzheimer’s patient.

Just this past year, our mother passed away. Yes, sometimes I have pangs of guilt thinking that maybe I should have quit my job and taken care of my mother full time. But I know it would have taken its toll on me, and would not have been a good decision for me or for my mother. I and my siblings I feel we did the best we could, and that our father who died many years ago would be proud of how we took care of our mother. I hope so anyway.

Now my husband’s situation is very different. His father passed away this past year as well. That leaves his mother who is in her eighties and mentally she’s sharp as a tack. No Alzheimer’s there. However, she does have some health issues that require someone available to help her pretty much around the clock. A big concern is that the mother is adamantly opposed to the whole idea of going to any sort of an assisted living or nursing facility. My husband’s older sister volunteered to take her mother in and tend to her care. That is a very generous and monumental decision to be sure.

She and her husband are both retired and much more financially well off than the rest of the family. Therefore, they like to travel and want to do that as much as possible while they’re still in relatively good health. We believe though they may have some resentment that the other siblings are not stepping up to the plate to help out in the way they expected. To be fair, the other siblings are not as well equipped to take care of an elderly parent due to smaller homes, limited finances, and many are not home during the day because of work responsibilities. It’s not a lack of love or of uncaring that more assistance is not provided. But we do feel bad that we can’t offer more help than we do. What we do is stay in touch with their mother, as well as visiting and taking her out to dinner now and then.

Bottom line is that mother’s care should probably be done by a facility, even if it’s just for an occasional stay called “respite care” while her caregivers are traveling. There is enough money to provide that for her, but the logistics of accomplishing that may be difficult. No one wants the mother to feel abandoned or unloved, but she seems to feel that way even if we’re just discussing temporary stays. Her children are all still living their lives and have many responsibilities. We also have our own health issues as well. We think the mother is expecting her children to take up the role that her late husband provided, but that is unrealistic. Since we are right in the midst of this family crisis, I’m not sure how this is going to pan out.

Knowing how to handle our parents’ declining years is fraught with worry and guilt and indecision. We do love and want to honor our mother and father, however, we can’t always measure up to their high expectations. Their generation seems to believe that it is our responsibility to become 24/7 caregivers, no matter what the consequences are to our own responsibilities and ongoing lives. And I don’t believe putting that kind of burden on all of us is the right thing to do. On the other hand, we know we are next in line to be in their shoes, but we do not want to put those same feelings of guilt on our own grownup children. Since the baby boomer generation is slowly becoming our senior citizens, I do wish our government was helping out more with the high costs of taking care of our older generation.

Issues such as these are the things that have the potential to tear family members apart. That is why it is so important for cooler heads to prevail and to keep the lines of communication open. No one, no matter how close, really knows the private battles each of us faces every day within our own lives. So we should not judge and put expectations on one another that may be unrealistic. Our elder generation deserves to be treated with dignity and to have their needs taken care of. There is nothing wrong with families using some of the services available out there to help us take care of our parents. There are many wonderful facilities that provide assistance and good nursing care, as well as in-home care and programs such as Meals On Wheels.

It may take a while to determine what the right thing is to do as we see our parents slowly losing their independence and watching their health decline. But with patience and understanding, we can be a team with our siblings and other family members to figure out the best options for all concerned. But since we’re caring human beings, I guess we will always have that little bit of guilt that we’re not doing enough. But we know we’re doing the best we can.