A Common Caregiver Confession: “I Secretly Wish My Ill Loved One Would Die”

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Every so often, someone on the AgingCare Caregiver Forum will admit that they secretly wish the person they’re caring for would pass away. Often, this person is sick, miserable and difficult to care for. The caregiver merely wants their life back and an end to their care recipient’s suffering. Of course, those who admit to having this thought wonder if that makes them a terrible person.

Most of these people are decent folks who care deeply about their parents, spouses and other loved ones who require care. They have taken on caregiving, as so many of us do, out of love. Our help is needed, so we jump in without a thought. We have no idea that this role could last for years or even decades. It doesn’t occur to us that this decision could jeopardize our relationships, our careers our health or our finances. But that is the reality for most.

Many families are suddenly thrust into caregiving when a loved one experiences a medical setback or receives a serious diagnosis. Everyone goes into crisis mode. This person can no longer safely live alone, but nobody wants them to move to a long-term care facility—at least not at the moment. So, a family member steps up or is nominated to provide and manage this person’s care.

Everyone is on an adrenaline high while making these decisions, but eventually reality sets in. The caregiver, usually an adult child, is left alone as other family members go back to their lives. They are left to manage kids, possibly a marriage, a career, hands-on care, doctor’s appointments, bills and so much more with little or no help.

After a while, the caregiver’s spouse and kids begin to resent their focus on this ill family member. Their performance at work suffers and their employer is often critical and disappointed. Everyone is somehow shortchanged, yet the rest of the family still says, “We can’t put Dad in a nursing home!” The caregiver agrees and keeps on keeping on. Life as they knew it has changed forever.

As the caregiver’s relationships with friends and family continue to deteriorate, they likely yearn for the past, grow to resent the present and look toward the future with skepticism. There is no way of knowing exactly how long this caregiving role will last. There are certainly ways to lighten one’s responsibilities, such as in-home care, adult day care and placement in a senior living community, but the role of caregiver does not come to an end until one’s care recipient passes away. It is this morbid yet realistic realization that leads caregivers to wish for a conclusion to their situation.

Most caregivers would have been devastated by the death of their loved ones before they took on this role. But when a care recipient has declined so significantly that they no longer resemble the person they used to be, it can be heartbreaking to imagine prolonging such a life. When a loved one is in pain, depressed, demanding, abusive, demented or violent, it takes a heavy emotional toll and involves a great deal of physical effort to even attempt to make them calm, comfortable or content. The doctors have done everything they can, so the caregiver starts thinking how nice it would be if their care recipient just went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. The senior would finally be at peace, and the caregiver would get their life back.

When these thoughts creep into a caregiver’s mind, the immediate reaction is often overwhelming guilt and shame. But is this thought really as abnormal or terrible as it seems? When we are faced with a grueling challenge, like running a marathon or working to meet a deadline, naturally, we focus on the finish line, the end result. Caregiving is no different. This job is a serious undertaking, and when things get difficult, we begin to think about the time when our duties will come to an end. Unfortunately, this conclusion comes with the loss of a loved one.

Most caregivers who wish that their loved ones would die aren’t horrible people. They aren’t thinking of “hurrying up the process.” They will likely grieve this person deeply once they do pass, and they are still doing everything they can to provide the quality care this person needs and deserves. This wish is more of a fantasy. They’d just like to have their life back the way it was before all this happened. They’d like their loved one back—mentally and physically healthy and independent the way they used to be. Caregivers are human beings, not saints.

While few caregivers voice this sentiment for fear of how others will receive it, I believe that most caregivers do have this fleeting thought at some point during their journey. These are good people who have seen their lives turn into more than they feel they can handle. I believe that many of these caregivers are depressed, overwhelmed and seemingly out of options. They just don’t know what else to do.

I have some suggestions for caregivers who are grappling with these thoughts:

  • See a doctor for yourself. Get a thorough physical and ask your doctor if you may need treatment for depression. Unchecked caregiver stress often contributes to burnout, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Tell your doctor about your daily routine, your moods and your mindset lately. He or she may suggest medication and/or counseling for depression and stress. If you don’t address these issues, at the very least, go to your annual preventative appointments. Caregiving takes a toll on your physical health and it’s important to listen to and take care of your body.
  • Don’t consider time off a luxury. Respite care is a necessity. It is crucial for your mental and physical health. Do whatever you can to find any type of break as frequently as possible. You need time to disconnect from providing care and recuperate. Hire in-home care, take your loved one to adult day care, or ask a family member, friend or neighbor to watch them for even 30 minutes while you decompress. Find ways to make time for yourself while also seeing that your loved one is well cared for.
  • Find a sanctuary where you can recharge. If you like being outside, find a park where you can walk, sit on a bench, read or meditate. If you prefer the indoors, visit the local library, tour a museum, go see a movie or attend a church service. Do things that bring you peace and happiness. Ideally, you will have a place in your home as well where you can enjoy some solitude.
  • Find productive ways to release stress. Exercise is known to help both mental and physical health. Remember, although gyms and yoga classes may count as “away time,” they aren’t necessarily alone time. If you need to blow off some steam by yourself, try going for a long walk, bike ride or swim. Remember that artistic endeavors can be useful outlets as well. Whether you’re journaling, cooking, drawing, painting, or playing or listening to music, pursuing hobbies you love can have powerful restorative effects.
  • Join a support group. Support groups of all kinds can be found both in person and online. These group settings are excellent sources of friendship, validation, advice and empowerment. They’re especially helpful to caregivers who feel isolated and “stuck” on their journey.

Yes, I hear you laughing at these suggestions and can visualize you rolling your eyes. When I was in the deepest part of caregiving with five elders and two children to care for, I would have considered attending support group meetings just one more thing on my endless to-do list.

Fortunately, fantastic support is now available on the internet. Support groups and online forums like those on AgingCare are invaluable to time-crunched caregivers who are seeking guidance but unable to leave the house. However, some people need to meet other caregivers face to face. If you are one of them, call your local Area Agency on Aging or social services office and ask about support groups. While you’re at it, ask about respite programs, financial assistance and other resources to help you put the above plans in place.

The bottom line is to get help for yourself. These thoughts are in no way abnormal for caregivers, but they do indicate that you are experiencing caregiver burnout or possibly compassion fatigue. Find a way to get breaks, somehow, before you break. If this is impossible, it’s time to bite the bullet and move your loved one to assisted living, a memory care unit or a nursing home. It may be undesirable, but this is a better option than running yourself into the ground with guilt and responsibilities or even risking lashing out at your loved one out of exasperation.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

Minding Our Elders

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366 Comments

Hi everyone! Wow... it has taken over a year for me to come back to this subject. In fact, I had removed my name from the subscribe list. When the comments were resurrected and I started getting notifications that people were posting I ignored them. I did not desire to revisit this as it brings up many emotions. HOWEVER, after signing in my email and seeing about 5 more, I decided to come back and read up on what everyone was saying. I'm glad I did and I want to give you an update on my personal situation.

My father in law (I was the first to comment on this thread) was so hateful and mean spirited but always acted like a meek, innocent angel with other people, including my husband. I did have lots of support from him and he backed me up constantly. I tried my best to love him, to care for him and to provide whatever I could for him. Not too long after the first "round" of posts last year, we got a call from a person who isn't a family member but she is the step mom of my husband's niece. She wanted to know if she could take "papa" for a week to give us a rest and give him a change of pace! Great!! We arranged the date, took him to her state (about an 8 hour drive) and took a mini vacation. It was wonderful.

He was his sweetest self, of course! When we went back to get him her and her husband talked to us about keeping him and after questions and answers and discussion I found out that he had been telling lies about me! Supposedly I was mistreating him, wouldn't feed him, yelled at him, did everything BUT take care of him... lied on him to my husband... etc., etc. This couple even responded to my outrage of this event by telling me that he had the start of Alzheimer's (no he didn't) and even if it wasn't true that my Father in law believed it to be true. I can totally see how they might think this, but I had been taking care of him for 3 years and they hadn't even as much as visited him! So when I rebutted it was almost as if I was defending myself against a whole family (spread out across 3 states) who believed that I was mistreating him.

I was hurt, angry, you name it... I felt it. My husband and I had a long conversation and we almost left him there regardless of what they believed. We knew what was true but it would be such a relief for us! However, after a night-long time of talking it through (just the two of us) we decided that we would take him back with us, grit our teeth and bear it but would not go on letting the family believe malicious lies.

My husband and I wrote letters to all of the family with nice words saying, you know what? Here's what we have done over the last 3 years. What have you done? When have you called, written cards or letters, sent checks to help us or even called us to say "Thank you for taking care of our grandpa." So, if you want to help now that you think the worse about us without even coming up here and checking out our living situation (you would see that he has a very nice living area of his own, plus the whole rest of the house at his disposal), then he is welcome to make a visit with you for a few days, week, whatever.

Of course, now everyone calls and my father in law got to visit 3 different families (the rest of them bowed out because they were too busy, didn't have the room, etc.). Over the course of a few months after staying in their homes for more than a week at a time, guess what? He started showing his true colors. People started questioning him "testing" him to see if he was delusional or if he really did know what he was doing. I could have told them if they would have listened, but I guess I just feel sorry for them that they felt they had to take matters in their own hands and "rescue" him from us instead of talking to us about what was going on like reasonable adults.

After my father in law came back to us it wasn't too long before he started being very, very mean. He scared me a couple of times because I thought it might get physical. I guess he was upset with me because I had exposed his little plot.

One day I was praying asking God for help and strength. I was at my wit's end! It was like a voice spoke to me and said, "It is ABUSE. You aren't abusing him, you have done everything possible to make this right, but you aren't expected to receive abuse either!" It finally dawned on me that I was under an abusive attack! Either mentally, verbally and eventually it would have been physically. I was able then to lay all the guilt aside (I didn't even think it was guilt I thought I was just trying very hard to get the man to know that I loved him and wanted to care for him until he could see that I was sincere!) and realize that my husband and I had to take care of "us"!

Every time my husband would leave the house, I would stay out of my FIL's way to avoid any confrontations. It was unavoidable a couple of times, but he got worse. To mention just a few, he came in on me when I had my door shut (I never locked my doors before as we respect closed doors), we had to start locking our door at night! He lied on me and we "caught" him in the lies and my husband exposed them and then he started back tracking (so he knew exactly what he was doing.) But when he started asking me to zip up his pants and tried to come in on me while I was dressing and talking to my husband about me (evidently I "needed" a man sexually because I had been married before) my husband decided that it was time for him to go. Before we completely lost all respect for him that we ever had!

This story is getting long. Sorry... to make it a little shorter (too late, lol) After a while, it was decided that the first woman (step mom of niece) would take him in as she was trained in home hospice. We worked out the money details and it was a win/win. She was widely informed on all his shenanigans, even the sexual language and conversations. We were kind, open and honest and asked her if in light of all we had told her she still wanted to do it then we would.

I won't go into any more details, (there are many!!!!) but he was there for a few months when she called my husband and told him, "All of us should get down on our knees and beg Debi forgiveness for misjudging her. This man is 10 times worse than I even imagined." Thank you, God for avenging me. I would not wish this on anyone, but I was so happy that at least the family knew that I wasn't lying. It was a relief for me.

My husband and I are very happy. My husband calls his dad and talks to him (it's always the same sob stories... he is never happy) but I don't. I don't have to. I don't have to put up with abuse, and I don't care to associate myself with it any longer, nor do I have to feel guilty. My hands are clean, my conscience is clear. I will go with my husband if he cares to go visit but as far as mentally and emotionally I have put it behind me. The Bible says that you are supposed to make peace with those who are divisive. Try it once, try it twice. If that still doesn't work, then have NOTHING to do with those people...they are evil. (I believe it).

I have talked a few times with this woman because I have told her she can call me to unload anytime she needs to. I feel for her, I know where she is! I feel for all of you. If your parent has been loving and kind and you can remember them in this light, then strength and peace to you! Still you need breaks! See if the assisted living has any programs where you can drop them off for a day. But DO NOT MAKE YOURSELF A SLAVE to this person who cares nothing about your life, does not invest in YOU, takes all your time, energy and provisions and still wants more! They will never give up. They will push your buttons until you blow up and then they are happy... for a while and then it starts again. Do you know why? Because they are selfish! They resent the fact that they don't have a life so they don't want you having one either! That is wrong. So don't feel guilty about correcting this situation.

Old or not, people should be trying to get along and live in peace and harmony. Sickness and disability is one thing but even then, caring people know that they are a burden and try to show you how much they appreciate it. Selfish people dream up ways to steal your joy, peace and time! LIfe is too short for that. You will be much happier placing them (albeit kicking and screaming) into a home that has the staff who are paid to take care of situations like this. It is better for them! I promise. You are doing what is best not only for you, but for them as well.

God bless. I'll listen anytime I need to to anyone... Been there, done that.
Then I guess I'm (relatively) normal too in this situation. Sometimes I think: who on earth would wish their mother would die in her sleep?

Someone made a comment early on in this discussion that our parents took care of us, but we were "cute bouncing babies" with hope of growing up, so it's not a fair comparison with caregiving someone with dementia. That is what I was trying to describe to someone the other day. If caregiving an elder with dementia is compared to motherhood, it could only be compared to the first few weeks as a new mom. I remember the first few weeks of motherhood when I was beyond exhausted, my child had colic and I was trying to recover from surgery and had quite the case of "baby blues". For the only time in my life, I would walk in my sleep, thinking I heard her cry. Then one night as I was feeding her, she smiled at me and from that day on, life got more hopeful - there was some payback. With caregiving an elderly parent, there is no hope. Every day things get worse and harder. They get more fretful and afraid and negative. You feel like they're holding your life hostage.

This has been a particularly emotional week - my mom has another UTI. There's another thing I thought I'd never say: thank goodness it was a UTI. She had a dramatic downturn mentally over the last few days, so it was a relief to find out that at least a part of it has a physical reason that can be treated.
darrobertson, when I had to place my mom to a nursing home due to her Alz's disease I finally got a big relief as it was so hard on me taking care of her for two and half years. I love her more than anything in the world, but it was difficult when I was her sole caregiver. Finally I got help and finally she got placed in a good place. I've been visiting her and enjoying her much more now. I even miss her greatly since she's no longer in my home, but I know she's in a better care. I got lucky..she got placed in an excellent place! I let Medicaid take over her money & SS checks. It's worth it to me. To save my sanity and for me to be better daughter for my mom now that I have 24/7 staff involved in her care which helps me greatly!