Question: My mother passed almost two years ago. I was her primary caregiver, assisted by family members and paid staff on her return from the nursing home. She passed after a serious abdominal obstruction, life threatening surgery and two weeks in trauma care, then palliative care. I am overwhelmed by feelings of guilt as her caregiver and for the decisions made at the end (in consultation with family and staff). Second thoughts about and ‘could have, should have, would have’ are with me daily and seem to be increasing rather than lessening. I have sought support from clergy and professionals, but have been unsuccessful in finding someone to assist in the process.
Dr. Amy: I want to reassure you that your feelings are not unusual. Really, almost to a person, I find that after a parent or someone we love dies, there is an element of guilt about we did or did not do or say— or how we managed something. It's painful.
I encourage you to look at the whole of your relationship with your mother, and all of the time you spent caring for her. Try to avoid focusing on the last few weeks of her life. My guess is that your mother knew just how much you loved her and that she was grateful for the excellent care you took of her. I also encourage you to focus on your intentions and not just the outcome. Sometimes there are messy and painful parts in life, and very often things don’t go as smoothly as we could wish. I am sure your mother knows that. Were mistakes made? Possibly. We are all human. But is it also possible that you and your family and health care staff had the best of intentions and made the best decisions you could at the time, given everything that was going on at the time and given the facts you had at your disposal?
You loved your mother, you tried your best, and over your lifetime together you were a good son. If this is true, it sounds like—despite some hard times—both you and your mother were very lucky to have each other.
I am glad that you have reached out for support as you work through your grief. I encourage you to continue for as long as it takes. There is no set formula for how long it takes to grieve. Everyone is different and unique.
I send you peace.
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