How to overcome caregiver guilt after death of a family member?

Follow
Share

I'm writing this mostly as self-therapy but I'll be glad if anyone here has any suggestions. I was taking care of my grandmother who had been suddenly hospitalized two months ago. She was 93 and had Sepsis, which has very high mortality rate. However, after being discharged from the hospital, she was making very good recovery.

Now to my problem. I had quit my job to search another one before my grandmother had taken ill. I decided to go slow on my job search and help my family take care of my grandmother. My parents are themselves old, so they needed me to take charge. I mostly did well in the initial month. However as days became weeks, I started panicking about my career. And started to resent, what I thought was, less contribution by other family members.

And I took out my frustration by shouting at everyone, even at my grandmother who was recovering. Besides I had foolishly thought that my grandmother was out of danger and was relentlessly making her take more food orally, try to walk etc. In all this I forgot to be nice and more kind, which I would have perhaps been if I had known that she won't recover. I kind of played the part of a strict hospital nurse who get things done, instead of a loving grandson in the last days of a person's life.

Suddenly my grandmother's Sepsis returned. Without going into details, I failed to re-admit her to the hospital in time, because I didn't clearly interpret the symptoms. When I eventually got the ambulance and took her to the hospital, it was too late and she died on my lap before we reached.

My family members and also the doctor had advised not subjecting her to further invasive medical treatment. So her spending her last days at home instead of ICU was perhaps not a bad outcome. But this didn't give me time to get back on happy terms with her again.

Now, I'm struggling with severe guilt. I feel I was not nice and kind to her in her last days, even though I was managing her medical needs. I did not get many of our relatives to come and visit her, because I felt, we could do that later on. I also wonder if all the force-feeding and exercises over a month, were worth it when I could have just let her be and only did what she wanted to do.

I have always felt that I don't have enough Emotional Intelligence and hurt people without meaning too. But this time, I have hurt a person whom I dearly love, in her last days, and have no way of fixing it anymore.

I have resolved to make up by taking better care of the rest of my family going forward and learn to control my emotions under pressure, but still not sure how I'll get over this mistake.

This question has been closed for answers. Ask a New Question.
12

Answers

Show:
I apologize for not ending that last post as I really should have..I wanted to give my condolences for the loss of his grandmother and that I hope he finds himself able to forgive himself. We all do the best we can with some of the most emotionally charged circumstances we will ever face. We are not always as perfect as we would like and we all make human errors. It's what is ultimately what is in our hearts that matters most.
Helpful Answer (0)
Report

Balaji, I had almost the same experience as Gershun with my own mom July 11, 2014. I had been at the nursing home with her almost all day but spent much of the time on the phone with her doctor and with staff due to mom having extreme edema and trying to get something done about it. I spent the evening trying to coax her to eat just a little to try to keep her from dehydrating. She wanted popsicles and ice chips so that's what I fed her. At around 10 PM I said "Mom I need to go home to let the dog out and feed her but I'll be back early in the morning." She looked at me with what I now tend to recall as a scared look and said "Susan, I'm dying." I gently told her "Not yet Mom,,,not yet". I kissed her and told her I loved her and that I would see her in the morning and left.

I got up early the next morning, took care of the dog, did a few small chores, took a shower and was just about ready to leave the house to go back and be with her when the phone rang around 9 AM. It was the nursing home, telling me that my mom was unresponsive and they had called squad for her. Let me tell you that it took me about 3 minutes to make a 10 minute trip to the nursing home. I got there just as the life squad was getting her from her room and was able to follow them to the hospital. She never really regained consciousness and passed away late that afternoon.

I don't know how anyone has ever felt guiltier than I did that day and in some measure still do. (Sobbing as I sit here and type this) After all she had even told me she was dying and I had discounted what turned out to be some of her very last words to me.

Look back as I often do on the times when you laughed together and were just easy in each other's company. You'll find that you don't feel as guilty by replacing those feeling with feelings of love.
Helpful Answer (0)
Report

Thank you all for your kind words. I have already started on some of your suggestions.

I should not be shouting at anyone. I hope I'll stop doing that, learning from this mistake.

My grandmother definitely knew that I cared for her. I can draw solace from the fact that our relationship in her last months wasn't very different from what it was before in our lives. For good or worse, I didn't contemplate her succumbing to her illness at this point. But as I witnessed, in the last few hours, fearing and anticipating the impending end may have been way more painful for everyone. My grandmother was a very independent and strong person. Maybe she would not have a liked a long goodbye either.

Thanks.
Helpful Answer (2)
Report

Balaji I have felt the same emotions you are feeling. Its funny how your mind will go back to instances that at the time mean't nothing but from the perspective of the present mean everything.

The last time I had full on face to face contact with my Mom was after a meeting at the nursing home with the staff. My brother had picked me up and drove me and we popped in very briefly afterward to see my Mom. At the time I thought I should of stayed longer but how was I to know it was the last time I would see her conscious and aware. I regret it and felt guilty but how was I to know.

My Mom and I always said I love you after every conversation we had. My advice to you would be maybe make a conscious effort now to tell the people you love that you love them every day and therefore avoid ever having to feel like maybe they didn't know.

I'm sure your grandma knew you cared. Don't beat yourself up about it.
Helpful Answer (1)
Report

I was also going to suggest what Twizard did - write a letter to your Grandmother about your feelings about her and her passing. Remember the good times and thank her for her presence in your life. Then write about your regrets. And then burn that letter and let those negative feelings go up in smoke.

I second all of the sentiments that you did the best you could with the knowledge and resources you had. Even doctors can't always tell when someone is near the end. My dad's doctor was having him start on anti-depressants on the day he died. I could tell he was getting ready to die and that's why he was withdrawing from everything. I wasn't with him when he died, and that ate at me for a while. But I realized I had to look at the totality of my dad's life and our relationship and not the last 30 minutes of his life. You need to do the same with your grandma. Her life was much more than just the last month of her life. So shift your focus to those times and don't get hung up on focusing on her last month. Hugs to you - you were a GREAT grandson.
Helpful Answer (1)
Report

That should say, telling her how you feel. Stupid autocorrect.
Helpful Answer (0)
Report

Balaji, I have a different perspective than the others, so I will write it here. Your grandmother is passed on, but depending on your religious views, can you write her a letter, tells no her how you feel, and what you wish would have gone differently? Then take the letter to her grave or her burial site or where her ashes are, and read it to her, OUT LOUD. Talk to her as if you and she were having a conversation. And then know that she would understand and forgive you. She was older and more experienced than you, and she has understanding and knowledge you have not acquired yet.

Then take the letter and burn it in an ash tray (outside the house, please) or fire place, and watch it burn. And as it turns to ash, forgive yourself and keep only the lessons you learned from this experience, not the guilt, nor the burden of reliving it.

Grieve for your grandmother. And stay the loving, sensitive personal n you are. You are not emotionally unintelligent. You are inexperienced in dealing with emotions. That can be fixed. Starting now. The next time you are angry about something, see if you can find something productive to do with the anger. I find washing the car, chopping wood, or scrubbing a room helps me to work through it.

And please know, sometimes anger is justified. It is how we act on it that may be inappropriate. Your relatives may have taken advantage of your efforts, and not contributed. And you should keep your career in mind when you make choices.

And, you are not responsible for your relatives not coming to visit her. They are responsible for that choice. But keep in mind that those same relatives will likely NOT help you when your parents need care. Nor will they be likely to visit. So if you and your parents put funds away to help take care of you and them, don't squander it.

Best of wishes to you. Hope you can forgive yourself and learn to remember your wonderful grandmother. You were there for her. Not perfectly, but no one is there perfectly. But you were THERE. For her and your parents.
Helpful Answer (3)
Report

Balaji-
You were forced into a difficult situation, with no training and a LOT of stress attached. You did the best you could, and your grandmother would have died no matter what you had done. I know my DH was constantly "shoulda, coulda, woulda" to himself after his dad passed. It drove him crazy. In retrospect, yes, all of us have dropped the ball in the caregiving dept., but very few of us have formal training in end of life care. People die, that's what happens. I know we gave my husband's dad the very best care we could. But his body still gave out. I have no regrets, it's all my hubby's. He felt that we should have had him in our home with me dancing attendance 24/7. That wasn't what dad wanted and wouldn't have added a day to his life, nor one iota of joy to it.
You're going to feel guilty for a bit, but don't wallow in it. 93 years ago with a grandson caring for her? I think you are amazing! And as far as interpreting the "signs"--my grandma was in a skilled NH--actively dying and they'd bring her huge meals, 3 times a day when she couldn't swallow water. DON'T beat yourself up. Take time to grieve, remember her and let go. (You seem to be very "emotionally intelligent!")
Helpful Answer (2)
Report

Balaji, You were so kind and generous to even step in to help your grandmother. This is above and beyond what most grandchildren would do, I believe. You are only human. Caregiving for an ailing elder, particularly one very, very old is stressful....sometimes pushing a caregiver to the breaking point. You did the best you could, and performed well under the immense pressure! It was your grandmother's time to go. Surely she is thanking you from heaven right now. Give yourself a pat on the back for having been there for her, and for not running away from the situation. Blessings to you as you heal from this loss and recover your strength. Remember...You were there for her.
Helpful Answer (3)
Report

Balaji,

Ok, so you played Nurse Jackie for a while.

But everyone, especially your grandma, knew you were trying to do the best you could. Even if you had been the best caregiver, you're still left wondering if there was anything you could've done better.

I lost composure and snapped at my Dad a few times the month before he passed in my arms. I still regret it, but that didn't cause him to die faster. The writing was already on the wall, just as it was for your grandma.

Get off the pity pot and a way to forgive yourself so you can move forward. That's what she'd like you to do.
Helpful Answer (3)
Report

This question has been closed for answers. Ask a New Question.