I am drawn at this time to talk about the topic that no caregiver really wants to think about – their feelings of guilt and regret. They surface the more often that we hear people praising us for what we do; when people say they couldn’t do what we do. I remember during my years of care giving, I could not just say thank you and accept that the other person didn’t understand. I felt I had to make them understand, that they were wrong, that I was not the paragon of virtue they somehow saw.
I talk about the subject in my video Aspect of Hope . I talk about the behaviors and rituals that I embarked on while Sue was still alive, so that I would not have guilt and regrets after my role was complete. I didn’t know if my rituals had any impact on the future, they just felt worthwhile at the time.
When my care giving days were over I was filled with regrets, and guilt. I vowed I would do better next time if there was a next time. There was. A close friend needed palliative care and wanted to die at home. I organized a volunteer roster and did all that I felt was expected of me for those 5 weeks. But maybe I had done less. Oh dear, there I was again, filled with guilt and regrets after she died.
So what is this all about? Yes it is about the grief process. It is very much about no second chances to get it right, no being able to redo something. When it is over, it is over. In essence it is about expectations. As caregivers we believe we are not expecting too much of ourselves. However misguided we know , deep inside, that everyone is expecting more. As a caregiver I went to bed trying to convince myself that I had done the best I could. The trouble was I was fooling myself. I did not believe that. My other voice was there criticizing me.
Was there someone to whom I could have turned? Could I have shared those feelings with a sounding board so I could have really convinced myself that I was doing the best I could? The reality is that at any given moment we only have the strength, skills, emotional power, decision making ability – that that moment will provide. A week later we may have more skills, have had more sleep, feel more confident and at that time be in a position to do a better job. At that time. That is the secret. We can not compare different days, situations, processes and outcomes. Each is unique.
There is another reality. Sometimes we do not do our best. It is not a case that our best was too little. It is that we purposely gave too little. Then we must live with the consequences. Why would we give less than we were able? Anger, hurt, frustration, lack of being appreciated, distraction or divided loyalties could well get in the way of us giving our all to the care giving role.
Success in being a caregiver comes from understanding our vulnerability, accepting it, loving ourselves because of it and most importantly, not hiding it. Only then can we move forward, living through our mistakes, acknowledging our flaws and understanding that perfection is impossible. Having a trusted person to share that journey with is invaluable. But they can not convince us that we are doing our best or support us when we are not giving our all. We alone can give ourselves permission to feel accomplished. We alone must ask for help when the task is temporarily beyond us.
Success in being a caregiver comes from understanding the progress we are making. Care giving is not about outcomes, it is about beautiful process or the meaningful journey. So often in my work life with the elderly the outcome was either placement in an institution or death. My skills were used to create a beautiful process or a meaningful journey. The outcome that was statistically measurable was not important to me.
What we must do is learn from the past so we hone our skills. But there is no graduation. We only graduate when we believe we have.
The years role by. My ensuing life experience makes me know that if I am in the caregiver role again, my expectations of myself will be higher. Me being me, I will still have regrets when it is over. But the guilt is a self inflicted punishment I can live without. I have learned to let that go. Perhaps for me, the words of a Jacques Revaux, Claude Francois, Gilles Thibaut and Paul Anka song made famous by Frank Sinatra say it best.
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
From Frank Sinatra – My Way Lyrics | MetroLyrics
When creating websites and writing blogs one often wonders “is there anyone out there?” On the first edition of my website in March 2010, I wrote a blog on this issue.
This week I was rewarded by a delightful letter from Morro Bay, California. Here is that letter –
“My name is Camden and I am a 22 year old female college student who has been in the past and will be at some point in the future, a caregiver for my grandparents who raised me. I know that care giving is part of my spiritual path as it allows me to show my grandparents the love, respect, work, and patience that they afforded me as a child. I just wanted to drop you a line and give a sincere thank you for this website as I know it’s resources will help me transition through these experiences with open eyes and an open heart.”
When care giving comes freely and with desire it has to be a growth experience. Giving from the heart expands our whole being. When resentment creeps into the care giving, the entire energy pattern changes. Indeed it is not good for our health.
I have written before about how the presence of a negative attitude impacts on the care giver role. Let me focus here on the impact of positive energy when care giving. Many wise people have talked about the value of service to not only the individual, but to the world.
It seems to me that when I had time to give to my care giving I enjoyed the role; I relaxed into it embracing the physical contact and meaningful communication. It was easy to be patient and I was stimulated by creative problem solving. But when I was rushed, juggling responsibilities, and when tired, the role became less of a healthy challenge and more of a stress filled burden. So we need to learn time management, acquire the ability to ask for help and get plenty of sleep so that giving of ourselves does not drain us.
I hope caregivers, and potential care givers, take time to read the following quotations. Apply them to your own lives; absorb the importance of the role that you play. Many shortsightedly believe that care giving is a waste of time; time which should be used to fulfill more lofty ideals. Indeed our society reinforces that outlook. But rest assured we can switch around our attitude to the task and know that the challenge is ours to accept and from which to grow.
Enjoy these words of wisdom.
Norman Cousins - If something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach to immortality . Mahatma Gandhi The fragrance always remains on the hand that gives the rose.
Mahatma Gandhi - The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Anthony Robbins - Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution, experience life’s deepest joy: true fulfillment.
John Wooden - You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you .
Elbert Hubbard (1856 – 1915) US author - All success consists in this: You are doing something for somebody – benefiting humanity – and the feeling of success comes from the consciousness of this.
Emily Dickinson - If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Up to his nest again, I shall not live in vain.
Albert Einstein - Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.
Albert Schweitzer - I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.
Eleanor Roosevelt - When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?
Felix Adler - To care for anyone else enough to make their problems one’s own, is ever the beginning of one’s real ethical development .
Herman Melville - We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibres, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, - It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.
Woodrow Wilson - If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig.
Helen Keller - Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.
Muhammad Ali - Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth .
Oprah Winfrey (1954 – ) O Magazine, September 2002
- I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.
Lateef Warnick – source: “One Source of Universal Love”
- The greatest life one can have is of service. Give joy, happiness, bliss, laughter, wisdom, prosperity, love & light to others. By doing so, you tap into the Infinite Source within ensuring that you will never have to do without these “treasures” yourself!