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Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be able to be happy again without this feeling of shadow over me. Always knowing that whatever happiness or ease I find in my life that I'll always feel guilty for it because my mother is suffering and will be until she passes which could easily be over a decade from now. Every now and then I will happen to have a good day or even good news and it's almost inevitable that my mother promptly has a crisis or some new misery to ruin it.

It almost feels like my life is already stolen, not really mine anymore and I'm long-distance from her for now but that is soon to change. I'm finding it harder to manage things from a distance, so one way or another she will be local but I plan to never live with her or I'd go crazy. Maybe I'd feel different if we'd had a good relationship up until now but we definitely did not. No matter how many services I arrange or how many professionals I put between me and her, I'll never be free of the responsibility unless I leave her to the state but the guilt would kill me.

How do the rest of you manage? Are you able to maintain any real happiness in the face of all this endless illness and decline?

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Happiness is certainly possible for a caregiver ... maybe not as an overall state of mind, but in dribs and drabs and bursts. How could I be happy that my beloved husband was declining in front of my eyes? But we had many happy moments together in the 10 years I cared for him with dementia.

My mother is in her 90s and often in physical pain and also suffers from dementia. That certainly does not make me happy, but I am happy to spend some time with her. My relationship with her does not consume my whole life.

I think one factor here is that I never felt responsible for my loved ones' impairments. I certainly did not cause their dementia, for example. I had absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. And I didn't/don't feel guilty.

Perhaps more importantly, I had a good relationship with these loved ones. I knew that if our situations were reversed, my husband would do his utmost to take good care of me. I took satisfaction in protecting the quality of his life. I love my mother, and she was nurturing, caring, and loving toward me.

Sunnydreams, perhaps with help you can get off the guilt treadmill. How can you feel happy when your mother is suffering? You can separate your own feelings from her. Surely you won't be happy BECAUSE she is suffering, but what good does it do her for you to be unhappy? You do not cause her suffering. You have no reason to feel guilty for it. Did you mother do a thorough job in installing some guilt buttons? Is that why you can't be happy now? Whatever the underlying cause, I urge you to have a few sessions with a therapist who can help you give up the unnecessary and unproductive guilt.

You can't go back and change the nature of the relationship you have had with Mother. But you can change how you view it, and what you do in relationship with her now. Again, a trained and objective outsider can help you will this process.

I think that the shadow hanging over you is not just that your mother is sick, but that you have never had a good relationship with her.

You do not have to "leave her to the state." Other caregivers have managed to distance themselves (both emotionally and physically) from their abusive, neglectful, or narcissistic parent, and still manage to see that they get good care.

Best of wishes to you as you struggle with this. You deserve some happiness.
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Yes, happiness is possible. I've always thought that a happy person is going to be happy no matter what. And unhappy ones will be unhappy. Even when a parent is sick and grumpy all day, a person can still be happy by pulling themselves out of it. It is when they start getting sucked into it that the unhappiness can begin. I think of a few people we have here on AC. They had or have husbands or parents with dementia, but manage to stay upbeat and caring about other people. I wouldn't be afraid to bet that they have happy personalities. One would have to in order to go through it and still smile.

But then there are grouch-pusses such as me. Nuff said. :)
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My knee-jerk response to the question was "yes, of course you can."

It's not quite as simple as that. I think: you can be as happy as a caregiver as you can be as a person. Which for many - most? - of us means, not necessarily that happy.

The added complication of caregiving is that it often - especially in your circumstances, Sunny - brings us into direct, involuntary contact with one of the key sources of common difficulties: our parent. And not just our parent, but our parent in need, our parent suffering, our parent as an individual separate person whom we have to look at objectively, as well as the mother we owe, or don't owe, reciprocal loving care.

So that at exactly the moment where the responsible adult in us in trying to work out good practical solutions to provide this individual with the best possible quality of life, the remembered child in us may have a radically different set of emotions towards its parent - which form a separate problem.

It's no good saying firmly "this is not the moment to address your issues." True, your parent is most unlikely to be able to help you with them, so in that sense it's futile expecting him or her to respond. But at the same time the presence of your parent in your life is forcing those issues to the surface, so it's equally unreasonable to expect yourself to put them completely out of your mind. They're right there, you can't just ignore them.

Hm. Once, as a junior doctor in ER, my ex-husband was required to treat a terrorist who, having shot and killed his target, had been shot in turn and injured by security personnel. My ex had no warm feelings towards the terrorist's cause, to understate it by some way. He managed to detach, and the patient lived: it was one of the things about him that I most admired. But, extreme as his experience was, he didn't have to practice emotional detachment 24/7 for an indefinite period; he didn't have to keep it up without knowing, even, when the end would be. So, how's it done?

Search me. But I know these help a bit:

It feels like it's overshadowing every aspect of your life; but actually that's up to you. Peg Bracken quoted the Bible in a domestic context thus: "when you cook, you cook. When you clean, you clean. Sufficient unto the time is the evil thereof." So: when you're dealing with your mother - administratively or hands-on - you're doing that. When you're off-duty, you're not. Take and enjoy your active off-duty time; don't spend it on worrying about your mother while someone else is responsible for her (and I'm a fine one to talk!).

Remember and enumerate the other things in your life that matter to you. They are still important. You could even do yourself a pie-chart of your time and thoughts: your mother might have the biggest slice, but there'll be plenty of other slices too. I am a full-time caregiver, but I haven't stopped being a rugby fan, a mother, a keen reader and an incorrigible shouter-at-the-radio during political discussion programmes - so I seem (to my surprise) to have quite a lot of mental space left over from thinking about my mother's needs. And that's not counting the time I occasionally devote to wondering what the hell's to become of me once this is all over...

Statistics say you are likely to be the survivor. When that day dawns, you will have done the best you could. Don't store up failures to feel guilty about. Learn from mistakes, learn what characteristics in your mother trigger your anger and avoid bringing them out, learn what needs doing because it makes a difference and what you're doing for form's sake - figure out what really matters and what you can drop. It's an imperfect world. Why should you have to get everything right?

I personally have found that correcting my mother's caregiving faults (I'm sure I make different mistakes instead, I'm not claiming sainthood here!) makes me feel less sore about them. I don't ignore medical symptoms. I don't dismiss her fears. I attend promptly to her comfort. I tell her, aloud, that her wishes and her happiness are important, and that she no longer needs to justify her existence. And, do you know, it's as if every time I'm crossing off a historic problem. Not only that, I feel as if I'm also correcting the even older abuses that made her so ill-equipped to look after anyone else - including me. It's surprisingly comforting, and not in an "aren't I superior" way - in a "this was wrong, that's better" way.

Sunny, of course I have no idea what your issues with your mother are, let alone what their roots were. Maybe, if you feel that your mother is actively culpable for example, caring for her is going to prove literally impossible. Take your time thinking it through. Remember you can ensure her care without actually doing it: that does NOT make you a bad or uncaring child, merely one who's had all she can take. In the end it's only your judgement that counts, because it's only you who really understands all the factors.

I conclude that caregiving in itself doesn't affect your ability to be happy. The problems it adds are the lack of choice about having the moral responsibility, which you can't do anything about; but then the question of how you fulfil it, which you can. Choose the ways that are right for you.
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So after my own caregiving experience, meeting others in the field, and reading so many stories here, I have come to a general conclusion.

Unless someone has a condition that caused them to mentally change, most loving, caring parents would never ask you as their child to sacrifice your own life, time, career, family, etc in order to be a caregiver. Not say a parent who asks for some help is a bad person; but good parents/patients keep in mind what is reasonable to ask and what is not. They would never blame you for things that happen, and they would never take your help for granted.

On the other hand, parents/family members/etc who have been selfish, cruel, greedy, lazy, etc all of their lives will continue to be those things and demand that you forfeit your life to cater to their every desire. These are people who spent a lifetime learning to manipulate you, and do it shamelessly. For these people, nothing is ever good enough, and they aren't afraid to tell you and everyone else what a bad caregiver you are. To them, you are the one who should be responsible for any problems, and if things go wrong you are the one who takes the blame (while never getting any credit for all the times things go well).

Most of us, I think, are in that latter category, and it sets the mood for a very unhappy situation. I've seen parents and patients who start off lazy, and just view a caregiver as a servant. Even worse, I've seen people who do things to make the caregiving job harder because they want revenge on the caregiver for some perceived slight.

I've also seen some good patients/parents who try very hard to ease the burden of those who care for them. They are the ones who try so hard to maintain control of their lives, and often they can graduate from even needing a caregiver.

These are just my observations, and I know it's never quite that black and white. Still, I think many caregiving situations are just built to cause unhappiness due to the type of person who would want (not need) you to wait on them 24/7.
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Thanks JessieBelle, it does make a lot of sense. I'm someone who kind of sits on the edge, I can be an overall positive person but under enough stress I flip and become overall negative. Can't do anything halfway! I find all too often the issues around my mother's aging makes me flip negative and it's tough to shake myself out of it. Then it affects the rest of my life. I like your idea of trying to make my attitude generally my decision, like committing to what kind of person I want to be....I hope I can pull it off.
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Thanks Jeanne too, you made me tear up saying I deserve some happiness. That's how much I need to hear that! The people in my life don't send that message, quite the opposite. It is indeed the difficult relationship with my mother that underlies it all. Were our positions reversed she would not generously care for me, she didn't when I was a child either. I've been in therapy for many years so I'm a bit of a hard case - those guilt buttons are super-glued in there. I'll keep chipping away at them with encouragement from good folks like you.
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Sunnydreams I know exactly how you feel. My mother tries choosing me over my other two sisters for her needs and crisis's. It is a constant emotional battle of not letting my mother attempt to overtake my life. There is not a day that goes by that I do no dwell on my mother's need to be used as her first responder. I dread her phone calls. Never know if there is going to be a minor crisis or listening to how lonely or depressed she is. She never burdens my sisters like this. I wish she would not hone in on me exclusively to solve all her problems. I am not her favorite nor do we have a close relationship. I have distance myself and established boundaries. My sisters feel they are secondary due to my mother's preference for me as primary. They do not realize how lucky they are. I would gladly become the last chosen and not have to emotionally deal with a mother looks to only one daughter for help.
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By separating your own feelings from your loved one causes you to become like a M&M, sweet on the inside with a hard shell on the outside!!

Hopefully one day I'll again be able to break that shell and find my sweetness again!
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Suzy he sounds like just a really nasty piece of work. Don't let him ruin your temper forever! - as they say about all terrorists, you mustn't let them win. And thank God he's not your blood relative… :)
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Oh my Lord, Ignorotic, You nailed it for me. I couldn't go to bed as I wouldn't be able to sleep because "the mother" was in another of her moods ( which are becoming more frequent lately) and knew this site would make me feel better.
This woman has been dying since Aug. to the point of having the family gathering and the crying and all about 5x's. I've had Hospice since Nov. She has been in respite care for a week for extreme anxiety, aggression and hallucinations. And now is her old self again. Selfish, cruel, greedy, lazy,etc. and isn't affraid to tell me and whoever what a bad caregiver I am. I asked her why this evening and her response was something about the corner of her blanket and I said "I fixed it" and she said I know, I said,(and I know better, to keep my mouth shut) "Oh, it wasn't fast enough".
I like how you point out about not getting credit when things go well. I'm not looking for credit, but it sure would be nice if it were in the picture.
So she had me call my 'Golden Child ' brother who she has signed everything over to (that reminds me she accused me of taking control of all her money, this evening) to come as soon as possible, as she wants to go to a nursing home where she can get proper care.
And Blah, Blah, Blah
It's all about control. Right from the begining. And I like the part you say about revenge on some percieved slight. I think it's got something to do with my relationship with my father. He died in my arms. I came hear to care for him because she was (in my eyes) abusing him. Maybe she feels I took better care of him. Who knows. Then your very last statment. She would not want anyone else to care for her, after all, on the good days, she says I'm a 'good waitress'.
All I ever wanted to be was her daughter.
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