I’m on a guilt trip. And it doesn’t look as though there will be an exit ramp any time soon. As our parents grow increasingly frail and dependent, guilt is a road I often travel.
If I head into a weekend too tired to make the 170-mile trek to see my 91-year-old dad, I’m regretful. When traffic tie-ups force me to abort a trip to my mother-in-law’s skilled care home 50 miles away, I’m remorseful. And if my husband gets hung up with work and can’t make it there either? No problem. I’ll feel guilty for the both of us. The guilt stops here.
I anticipated guilt raising our son. Parents seem hard-wired for it. You’re sure that any misstep will scar your child for life. You feel guilty when you’re away for a day or so, when you can’t make enough healthy meals or schedule the right number of play dates. That’s to be expected, right? You cry to your friends, wring your hands, say lots of prayers and have a glass of wine.
And then your child grows up smarter and wiser than you and, with a sigh of relief, you kiss guilt goodbye.
Not so fast.
It’s time to get back on the road for guilt, part 2. I have to admit, this latest season of guilt caught me by surprise. And just when I thought I had it all together. It sneaked up on me when I wasn’t looking and whopped me up the side of the head.
I feel guilty that I haven’t nudged Dad a little harder to move closer to me. But if he did, I’m convinced I would be just as guilty for robbing him of everything he’s ever known.
On a recent Saturday, while I was taking Dad and his long-time friend on a ride in the country, I felt guilty not to be home with my husband, cleaning my house, watering my hydrangea, knocking things off my to-do list, dining with friends and family. But the minute I arrived home, I wondered if I’d left too soon, if Dad was okay or if he was lonesome.
So there you have the worst about guilt. It robs you of the present, steals your joy from the moment and keeps you distracted. At least that’s what it does to me.
And why, I wonder? My friends and family encourage me. My employer is constantly supportive. Heck, even my dad says I go above and beyond. So what’s the deal?
Part of it, I know, is the different time and place in which we live. When my father was in my shoes looking after his 91-year-old mother, he had simply to drive down the street whenever she needed anything.
Dread is another part of this journey, because I know that the time is drawing closer when we’ll say goodbye. So any minute spent apart seems to lead to guilt. Guilt that this could be the last opportunity together and I’ll miss it because I’m doing something a whole lot less important.
So for now, I’ll ride along on this guilt trip. Until I can take another kind of excursion, say, to Tahiti.
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