“If we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.” – J.M. Coetzee, “Disgrace”

I was born feeling guilty, and attending Catholic school helped solidify this feeling. Take for example that before we could make our First Communion (we were 7 years old), we had to make our first confession.

If you are Catholic, you know that this is a ritual of telling your sins, both mortal sins (premeditated) and venial sins (not so serious) to a priest. You are then given a penance to redeem yourself, a few prayers, more prayers for the more serious sins, and you are forgiven.

I was 7!

But the nuns insisted we must have sinned, and we were told to really think about it and confess these sins.

Seems to me my caregivers always feel guilty about something.

Most common reasons caregivers feel guilty:

  • I don’t deserve time to myself. My loved one gets upset if I am gone.
  • I cannot place my loved one. I must take care of him or her myself until the end. I promised.
  • I cannot tell my loved one a lie (therapeutic fib) even if it would probably be the best approach.
  • I cannot deal with my own issues. My loved one always comes first.
  • Other caregivers seem to juggle everything with such ease. Why can’t I?

Here are some suggestions on how to cope with caregiver guilt:

  • Acknowledge the guilt. It is normal to feel guilt. Recognize and move on.
  • Accept that you are human and have flaws.
  • It is okay to lie. Would it calm the person if you told them their mother is on a trip or is it better to say she died? Therapeutic fibbing is a form of re-direction.
  • Know that you are trying to make the best decisions for you and your loved one. Maybe at one time you did promise to never place them in a memory care center, but circumstances change, and placement might be the best option.
  • Make time for yourself. You must do this because if you don’t you will forget how to live outside of being a caregiver. Keep engaged with friends, reach out and ask for help, try to laugh, just keep living.
  • Lower your expectations. This one is one of the most difficult things to accept. All forms of dementia are progressive. Learn about what you might expect and make adjustments. Be realistic.

Memory Matters offers support groups to help caregivers learn tools to navigate this long journey. Please, do yourself and your loved one a favor and attend these meetings whenever possible. Knowledge is power. The group sessions are free, you do not have to call ahead, and they are confidential. Visit our website for the schedule at www.memory-matters.org or call 843-842-6688.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org