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When guilt and second thoughts haunt you


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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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. January 28, 2018 at 9:18 am | Posted by Neer

    Dear All , I lost my Mom's on 24th December 2017 . She was slightly I'll & then It was decided that she should be admitted to a hospital as an emergency measures. I took her to the nearest available hospital which happened to be a government hospital. But Alas the same evening she expired. I deeply regret that had I admitted in a good private hospital she must have been alive . There was absolutely no issue of money just a wrong decision . What to do . My mother was almost healthy.she was very very loving . I miss her very very much . More than a month & I remember her almost 24 hrs a day . I feel that she died due to me .


  2. March 5, 2017 at 11:40 pm | Posted by Janine Scott

    I lost my mother 7 months ago and just can't stop crying. I'm 58 years old and moved back home in my early 30 years to live with my mother who was everything to me even though we did argue quite a bit we did everything together. And now that she is gone I fell guilty for some of the things I said to her when we would argue I talk to her as if she is her and cry telling how sorry I am for everything she was my world and now I fell empty all the time with out her. I have never been married just have not found anyone it's hard to meet anyone these days. And I still live in my mother's house that's makes it very hard with everything reminded me of her just don't know how to live life with out her I believe she was my soil mate I miss her everyday and wish I was with her. .


    • August 21, 2021 at 3:43 am | Posted by Mary

      OMG!! I have the same story!! Please give me update, guidance or advice on how your doing and what worked for you!!


  3. February 1, 2017 at 4:00 am | Posted by John

    Scott, Your comment is a little over a year and a half old - but I just came across it. I've been searching for "comfort" and "release" as you did; my mother, whom I cared for in her last 6 years of extended ill health, was exibiting rapid decline in the last 3 months of her life - and I felt totally unfit for what was going on - a desperation. I've learned since that my "shortness" with her, my displays of brief anger, my inability to "correct" what was going on with her (she would say under her breath "Something doesn't feel right inside me") - horrible feelings now of having let her down, anger at myself for not being more "in tune" with what was transpiring before my very eyes (and seemd to know intuitively) - is similar to what most everyone in yours and my situation experience in the throws of a mighty stuggle of love and the forboding feeling of impending doom. It's comforting to me that this is a universal experience. I'm comforted to know that I'm just like everyone else - human and NOT infallible. Getting past guilt's "big brother", shame, is moving me forward. Learning the difference between these 2 emotions was a huge help for me. Keep living in the "now", Scott - and, like me, hopefully the life-lessons learned will advance us in our betterment of self for the sake of our fellow man.


  4. June 21, 2015 at 12:03 am | Posted by Scott Denny

    My mom had a bladder infection and when the dr. Ordered cipro the rx told me it could cause tendon damage which took my mind off her coumedin.Then I apparently did not give her enough fluids with the cipro and then diaria came and I forgot pedialyte but gave her food and mom then went into renal now blamming myself in so many ways for her death.its like a fire raging around me. What can I do to relive myself of this tremendous burden.


  5. June 25, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Posted by Cissy

    I have the same feelings. Momma gone eight months now. But I try to remember that so many had no family to aide in their care. So we did something right. My relationship was so strained due to dementia. And days I would be so frustrated, and short. My mom's last days in the hospital caused her death. I come to this page alot, and find comfort in other people. So knowing that others have felt the same, and we have all tried so very hard, and are human....hopefully then, comfort. God Bless you. O


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