Coping With Guilt After Moving Your Senior Loved One
If you've recently decided to move your loved one to a personal care community you probably didn’t make the decision lightly, and it’s possible that you're struggling with guilt about the move. Whether the move to personal care or assisted living was forced by health concerns, or if it was made slowly with multiple family members weighing in, it’s still possible for you to feel a sense of guilt or remorse. And that’s normal.
The turmoil doesn’t always stop just because the decision has been made. It can actually continue, or even get worse as you learn to let go of the small details that you’re used to taking care of. But if you can identify what triggers your feelings of guilt, and come up with productive strategies for alleviating them, you may find your guilt is replaced with peace of mind or even happiness.
"Feelings of guilt and worry are common when placing a loved one in assisted living or personal care," Leslie Winnick, Corporate Sales Manager at Presbyterian Senior Living says. "It’s normal to worry about every little detail of care and if your loved one is feeling vulnerable in a new home. Remember, few aging seniors would want their children or spouse to entirely give up their own lives to care for them. Understanding where this guilt is coming from and accepting the reality of the situation will help you come to terms with your decision."
What Causes the Guilt?
There’s a good chance you won’t constantly be having these feelings of guilt or grief. Many times, you’ll be having a normal day when suddenly you think about your loved one. But it’s usually not random. There may be a contributing factor or a trigger that causes these difficult feelings. Here are a few situations that may trigger the feeling:
- If you have an enjoyable experience without your loved one
- If you feel relief without them
- If you have to make a medical decision for them, like a DNR order
- If you become dissatisfied with the care or attention from the community
- If you feel the need to always be by their side
- If you start to feel depressed or anxious
In some cases, your loved one may have asked you not to move them to a personal care community, but their needs were just too great. The idea of not being able to care for them at home, or the perception (which is often inaccurate) that others expect you to care for the person can be powerful triggers. But there are ways you can learn to cope.
If these situations don't apply to you, that's OK. They're just a small sample of possible triggers. It doesn't make your feelings any less valid. The important thing is that you are able to identify what makes you feel this way, so you can then decide how to move forward productively.
"When you are feeling guilty after placing your loved one in a new home, you may think 'this is not what Mom wanted' or 'what could I have done to keep her at home.' Do not dwell on the past," Winnick says. "You haven’t failed. It is the smart decision to move her to the level of care needed. Understand that sometimes professional help is necessary for the safety of your loved one."
Acknowledge the Change
The first step to helping yourself adjust to this new change is to acknowledge that it is a significant adjustment. While simply recognizing that you’re coping with something won’t change it immediately, it will allow you to pause and understand the challenge you’re facing. You won’t be able to overcome the guilt if you don’t give yourself permission to feel it and work your way through the complicated emotion.
It’s also important to know that moving your loved one to a personal care community may help with the immediate stress that comes with caring for that person, but if you were feeling depressed or anxious before the move it’s very possible you’ll still feel that way after. Studies have found that caregivers experience just as much depression and anxiety afterwards as before. This means that although the move may have been necessary for your loved one’s health, you shouldn’t treat it as an automatic fix for yourself.
The Benefits of Personal Care
If you’re feeling guilty that your loved one asked not to be moved, it may help you to know that there are many benefits to personal care communities.
You might feel that no one will be able to match the level of care you gave your loved one at home, but remember that the care at a community is usually available 24 hours a day. The staff at a personal care community are trained professionals, who will be able to provide care in a way you can’t. Because of this, you may soon find that your loved one actually improves while in the community.
Personal Care also allows you to focus more on your loved one’s emotional needs, while leaving their physical ones to the professionals. You can spend time visiting and simply talking to them without the usual worries in the back of your mind. Connecting in this way allows you to build and maintain your relationship with them.
If you’re worried about your loved one adjusting to personal care, there are little ways you can help them settle in. Work with them to find meaningful activities at the community that they will enjoy to ease them into the transition. If you can, try to set up previously established routines for your loved one. For example, if they read the paper every morning, see if they can have that paper delivered to them. Routines can be helpful for seniors who recently moved to personal care.
You can also talk to the community staff about your concerns. Communication is important, and most communities want to know what your concerns are. Learning how to advocate for your loved one is important, and as long as you aren’t constantly calling with questions and orders, the community will appreciate the extra knowledge.
Making The Transition Easier
Leslie has some more ideas to make this transition easier for your loved one:
- Make your loved one as comfortable as possible by personalizing the room and talking to the caregivers about ways to make them content.
- Try to make the time you do spend together as meaningful as possible. Plan ahead for conversation topics like memories you share or activities you can do together.
- Have a support system for yourself like a spouse, child or good friend who you can talk to about your feelings of guilt. Also, enlist this support system to visit your loved one so you can take time for yourself.
- Take good care of yourself as well. If you are feeling exhausted, your loved one may see this and feel like a burden. You also may have less patience when spending time together.
- Form a relationship with other family members at the community who may be experiencing the same feelings. Focus on the positive aspects of the assisted living together.
- Don’t compare yourself and your situation to others. Every person and circumstance is different.
Take Care of Yourself
Don’t neglect yourself because you’re too caught up in your concern for your loved one. The feelings of guilt won’t go away until you address them. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings with someone. Talking with a neutral party can help you sort out how you feel and may help you find a way to deal with them. Taking time to process your emotions is a vital part of any healing process after a major change.
Many caregivers feel it's a privilege or an obligation to care for their loved one, and feel they are letting their loved one down if they can’t. Even if it's physically and emotionally taxing. Acknowledging your emotions of grief, loss, guilt, and relief may allow for a healthier adjustment after your loved one moves.
To help put your mind at ease, or for more info on how to help your loved one thrive in personal care or assisted living, download our free eBook below.