QUESTION: My husband of 57 years suffers from congestive heart failure. He is unable to do much more than get through the day. I am in excellent health and crave exercising, socializing and enjoying hobbies such as gardening. I have caregiving support, but when I do get out I feel terribly guilty about leaving my husband behind. Is this normal?—Barbara D
DEAR BARBARA: You bet. Family caregivers often fail to recognize the great loss associated with a loved one’s chronic or terminal illness. Your husband is no longer able to share the life you once had, and to further complicate emotions, you are coming to terms with the fact that the future isn’t going to be what the two of you had planned. You are, in effect, grieving, and guilt is a normal part of grief. Work on forgiving yourself. As caregivers, we are called to walk alongside those in our care to offer love, support and a listening ear. We are not called to carry their pain and suffering. Understanding that distinction will help you to remember the best thing you can do for your husband is to stay healthy and active. Your self-care practices will sustain you through his illness and carry you far into your future.
Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.