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Guilt and Caregiving

Throughout our cancer journey I found myself feeling guilty about a lot of things. I felt guilty that I was the healthy one, guilty for not paying attention to catching the cancer sooner, guilty I wasn’t doing enough to take care of Jordan and getting him all the help he needed. I felt guilty that he was the one who was suffering, guilty that he was the one who was dying and deserved to be on the earth. I felt like guilt was my middle name.

This was something that I frequently spoke to my psychologist about, because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough or I wasn’t doing it right. When it comes to caregivers, I feel like I am not alone in this feeling. There isn’t exactly a manual for caregivers, I did attend a session on what to expect when Jordan was first diagnosed. It felt like a whirlwind in the beginning, I was crying uncontrollably throughout the session, so it’s safe to say that I didn’t retain anything. Caregivers are thrown into this role, you might have an idea of what is ahead of you (because of Hollywood depictions, or other people’s experiences), but you aren’t prepared to see your person suffer and give care at the same time. I thought that since I was the healthy one, I should be the one to do everything, I would say to myself “I’m not the one in pain”, or “at least I have my health, I should be doing everything”, and here came guilt. How could I complain about being tired and frustrated when my person is the one who is dying.

The consequences of my guilt left me feeling like the following, maybe not all at the same time but mostly at the same time.

  • Anxious

  • Resentful towards myself

  • Agitated

  • Alone

  • Tired

  • Sad

  • Depressed

With the help of my psychologist she helped me to see that Jordan is the one physically and emotionally suffering from the cancer, however I was also suffering from the cancer. That was the first time someone had phrased it to me in that way (that was a year in). I was also suffering from cancer, but not at all in the same way as Jordan. We were suffering together but in different ways. It was important for Jordan to know what I was feeling, I didn’t want to tell him because I didn’t want him to feel guilty.

I approached him with a sense of vulnerability (I channeled my inner Brene Brown) and told Jordan that I knew nothing major could be fixed, that I loved him beyond words and I just needed him to listen to what I am going through. This opened the floodgates to our conversations beyond guilt and made our marriage even stronger throughout our journey, something the cancer couldn’t take from us. He did feel guilty that because of him I was feeling the way I was, but I reminded him that’s what cancer does, we both didn’t want Jordan to have cancer. That’s the reality of our situation, we couldn’t change it, but we could work through it together.

It’s funny how something like guilt can make us feel alone and closed off. Guilt makes us feel that our situations need (should) to be solved or fixed, and we think we are the only ones that can do that. Some situations can’t be solved and if they can, sometimes we can’t do it alone and we need to be vulnerable and ask for help. I’ve come to realize that guilt is a common feeling among all of us, especially when I speak to moms. I don’t have the credentials to know where guilt comes from, but I do know the feeling.

This change in perspective has helped me because it allowed me to be open to Jordan and made our last few months meaningful instead of being weighed down by guilt. I was lucky to have such a good psychologist that helped me through this process, and I understand that some of you are not as lucky as I am.

Here are ways that helped me cope with the guilt, I don’t know if that guilt feeling will ever go away. If you are feeling severe guilt from severe trauma, please speak to your doctor or seek counseling. It is important to talk to someone for your own mental health.

  • Acknowledge the guilt. Question what is making you feel guilty and how it makes you feel.

  • Accept the guilt. From my previous experience, I’ve acknowledged the guilt but did not accept it, I just let it pass through me and said it will go away. BUT, it kept on coming back.

  • Be still with the guilt. This part was hard for me, because I had to go deep and figure out what the guilt meant to me. Jordan knew that being in total silence was hard for me, the thought of being alone with my thoughts is scary to me.

  • Do not be ashamed of guilt. We all feel guilty (unless you’re a psychopath) YOU ARE HUMAN and can only take on so much, I would have to tell myself this on a daily basis.

  • Speak to your partner or someone about it. If it’s something that can’t be fixed, tell them that, sometimes it is good just to have someone to listen. I found in some situations it’s better to speak to a friend or family member first before you speak to your partner. I found that by speaking to someone else first you better understand your own feelings.

Please note, these aren’t steps that need to be done in specific order, this is what helped me. Sometimes I needed to speak to someone to know that I actually felt guilt or I needed to be still to accept it. Whatever works for you, it’s your life, dig deep! We can use guilt to help us grow and become better people, I know it’s not that easy.

This is not an easy topic, let me know what made you feel guilty or what helped you move through the guilt. Also, I will be writing another post on grieving and guilt, which is hard for me to think about because it feels so definite.

Hope you guys enjoyed this post, let me know your thoughts!

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