Feeling Like A Guilty Daughter

Dear Dr. D.,

Twelve months ago I placed my mother (she was 87) in a nursing home after a fall because she couldn’t walk, something she’d kept hidden from me. She died April 10th from pneumonia and the time she was in the facility was the worst of her life. She was never happy and had to share a room with a stranger. I had to sell her home and found out after the sale she’d had a quit claim on her home and as a result we five kids got the money. I wanted to pay for a private room with what I had but was afraid that when the money ran out (in one year) she would be in yet another shared room and that would be worse than what she was all ready going through. I was able to see her on Monday and she was awake and talking and we took a walk and I was with her during lunch, didn’t get out there on Tuesday and by Wednesday she was comatose. It happened that quickly. I found out later that only my name was on her insurance which was only a few thousand dollars but I now feel guilty like I didn’t do enough for her and I am having a difficult time dealing with it all. I’ve helped my mother my whole married life (35 years) and we took her on vacations with us and my sons and I visited her often. I also took her shopping and cleaned her home and kept her company after my dad died twenty-five years ago. The rest of my family did very little to help out. Anyway, should I feel guilty about all this and if not how do I let go of the guilt?

~Feeling Like A Guilty Daughter

Dear Guilty,

There is no reason for your guilt! Start grieving and drop the guilt. It’s a waste of your time and energy. Your guilt is covering up for your overwhelming grief. You’ve described your mother and daughter relationship with such depth and love, your loss must feel insurmountable. Allow yourself to miss your mother. While you are alone in the car or shower, tell her exactly what you miss. (I don’t know whether or not she can hear you, but it will help you. Just try not to talk to her in public places or you know what most folks will think.)

Also, talk about her to others – just not endlessly – or people’s eyes may glaze over and your friends may run the other way when they see you coming. Remember, you still have your own life to live. Cry! Tears are good for the soul. If you are so inclined, make a memory book filled with thoughts, mementos and photos. Putting your feelings in a binder can help. Mourning a deep loss can take up to a year. If it’s longer than that, or you find yourself super anxious or depressed, seek out family, friends, a support group or a therapist. Your grief is yours alone, but sharing it with others makes it just that much easier to bear.

Your mom lived a long life of sharing in your family activities, vacations, and time with you and your family. It sounds to me as if you were more special to her than your siblings and their families. You might consider that you are the fortunate one. If that’s the case, live with your family’s envy and again, drop the guilt.

Yes, putting a parent into a nursing home or senior facility is an emotionally trying experience. Sadly, many of us have to go through this process. Why feel guilty about the money that your mother left for you? She obviously wanted you to have it. You cared for her and she’s now continuing to care for you. How lovely! It could be considered selfish not to enjoy her gift to you. Enjoy what she gave you. You earned it. Let happy memories eventually win out as you treasure your mother’s life.

Life is too hard to do alone – Reach out!

Dr. D.

Previously Published in 2008