Today is the 64th wedding anniversary of my parents. It’s also been two months since my dad made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. Recovering from his third stroke in six months, he decided to move from my parents’ new independent living apartment, to a small apartment, and move my mom to a home that specializes in care for those with dementia. This blog is seventh in a series on my parents’ recent move from their home of forty years and handling big changes in their lives.
When a counselor asked my dad how he was doing, he said that he felt the best he has felt in years. Then he added, “There are times I feel guilty. When I’m enjoying myself, I feel guilty. I think about my wife being alone, wondering why we’re not living together, feeling abandoned, thinking she’s been put away.”
The counselor said, “You shouldn’t feel guilty.” She went on to describe how well mom is doing, how well she is cared for and how much fun she’s having dancing and participating in activities. She then told my dad that he needed to take care of himself and finished with, “You shouldn’t feel guilty.”
Of course, after the first, “You shouldn’t feel guilty,” all that my dad heard was, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And after the second, “You shouldn’t feel guilty,” his brain was busy delivering to him his entire archive of thoughts and feelings of guilt and now he really felt guilty!
I later explained to my dad that guilt is a fight, flight, and freeze thought that his brain is delivering to him because something is happening that is different from what he hopes or expects or believes or has concluded from past experiences.
He shared that he never dreamed that he and my mom would end up like this.
I asked him, “What do you truly want?” He said when they got married, he vowed to take care of my mom, no matter what. I asked him, “What are all the ways you can take care of Mom?”
He had a long list – he’s made sure she’s in a great place, with great food and company and care, he visits her every day, tucks her in at night, brings her chocolate, holds her hand, takes her to church and on a lunch date every Sunday, plays bingo with her, puts her on the phone with her sisters, tells her jokes, helps her to feel safe and loved.
I asked him, “What are all the ways you can take care of yourself so you can take care of Mom?” Again, he had a long list of things he could do to take care of his mind, body and spirit, which of course, included being with friends and enjoying himself.
Then I asked him what he could practice thinking when he experiences guilt. He decided to acknowledge the guilt thought, without blame or judgment, and remind himself how much he loves his wife and how he’s fulfilling the promise he made 64 years ago–to take care of her, no matter what.
What are you telling yourself you should or shouldn’t think? And what could you prefer to think?
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