I remember a time when I wrote my grandma, who lived two hundred miles away, a letter once a week. She told me once how much those letters meant to her. But then – in my mind it was right after that letter from her telling me how much she loved our correspondence, but more likely it was a month or two – I went through a serious personal crisis. Her regular supply of letters from me dried up. Eventually I returned to writing her, but I had moved several states away and she had declined. I wasn't even there when she died. I feel guilt about that.
While I'm baring my soul, I'll say I wish I had known more about the need for physical touch later as my parents were dying. I was there. I was present. And yes, I did talk to them, touch them and keep them comfortable. However, as I've read more about physical death and the dying, as I've studied more hospice material, as I've talked with more people who have attended more deathbeds, I've found myself feeling guilty. I feel that I was less than perfect in how I handled their deaths.
Does my guilt over any of these things help anyone now? That is what I have to ask myself when I find my mind mulling over these old issues. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can change things. I didn't do anything terrible. I just didn't do my "caregiving" as perfectly as I'd like to have done. Wallowing in guilt helps no one.
My solution? Move forward. Tell people my stories. Tell them my successes and my failures. When I do that, it gives me hope. I think that maybe one more person will hold their loved one more, comb his or her hair, lotion his or her skin – just spend more time touching than they would have spent had I not told my story. And maybe there's someone reading this who has neglected writing a note to an elder because he or she is "too busy." Maybe that person will sit down and write. If that happens, then I've made my amends. It's all I can do, as I can't live my life over, nor do I want to.
Then I need to forgive myself for all of my imperfections. I am human. I do my best with what I have at the moment, and that has to be good enough. Guilt erodes the soul. Be done with it.
Author, columnist and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack wrote "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories" and is the moderator of the AgingCare.com community. Read full biography