Guilt Over Leaving a Loved One In a Care Facility

Aug 13th, 2009 | By Dr Jerry D Elrod | Category: Senior Moments Blog

This is among the hardest of aging issues to confront.   Getting to the point at having to commit a loved one to a Care Facility, however defined, is no small or simple undertaking.  When the individual makes the choice him/herself, it is, of course, a much easier proposition.  There is a well done movie which deals with this issue, in which the female becomes aware of her dementia issues and insists that she move into a facility.  The movie, titled “Away From Her,” deals more with the husband’s struggles at letting her go than with her issues of memory loss.  Both dynamics inevitably collide as the story unwinds.

There are all kinds of emotions that emerge when such a choice must be made.  None of the issues is easy to negotiate and resolve.  For the person facing the likelihood of surrender of  her/his home, giving up driving, living in an environment that can be strange and forbidding, facing the aging of others, as well as your own 24/7 , the adjustments are enormous.  Some are able to do so with grace, some with hostile reluctance.

The guilt that comes with leaving a loved one in a facility can be regular and haunting. Depending  upon available family members who will participate, legally and physically in the move, the load can be very heavy.  Some facilities are pleasant enough that it can almost be like moving into a nice hotel accomodation.  This can reduce the turmoil of resettling. The more the patient (client, individual) is comfortable with the new setting, the easier it will be on everyone.  Having familar pieces of furniture, one’s own bed, decorative wall hangings and family pictures increases the sense of home. 

Once settled in, however, the guilt factor becomes real.  Hugging the parent or significant other before leaving until the next time is extremely difficult. It becomes more natural as time goes by, but never completely dissipates.

A commitment, well made, is to be sure to be in touch daily.  Be sure there is a telephone service, easily within reach, so that calls  can be made and received. Whatever the patient’s condition, physical, mental, whatever, be sure that the circle of acquiantances is consistently and readily available.

Beyond the telephone, the more critical and more difficult the need for  frequent visits.  If you live relatively nearby, it is much easier to schedule drop ins or just  have serendipity visits.  Encouraging friends, other relatives, etc to be sure they just go by to say hello is also helpful.  Nothing, however, takes the place of your own presence.  Nothing can alter the person’s need to see and share their lives with their own child, son or daughter, or someone else special to them.  Encouraging ways and making choices for that to happen relieves some of the guilt.

Difficult today, but not impossible, is to drop a line, send a card, flowers or other thoughtful way to be present without  being present.   The Internet has stolen so manyopportunities to communicate in old fashioned ways, particularly if the patient is not computer literate, that it seems a hassle to just be thoughtful.  Takes time, takes discipline, but do it.

If your loved one is religious, being able to have some identification with a spiritual community is extremely important.  This is often dependent on issues of mobility, appropriate travel arrangements, and handicapped accessible facilities where the religious services or other activities are conducted.

Keeping the circle of one’s possibilities wide will contribute to better health and mental acuity.  Knowing that she/he is loved and cared for is the most effective medication that can be administered. Reducing your own guilt by addressing ways to be present and affirming will enable you to feel better about the circumstances that affect all in the family. Celebrating the life you have with your loved one now will reduce the guilt of not having been present along the way!



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