Well-meaning but hasty comments add to caregiver's heavy load
Dear Carol: I am caring for both of my parents who are over 90. Mom has Alzheimer's. Dad tries to help, but he's limited in what he can do. Frankly, some days I feel limited as well. I'm so exhausted all the time that I can't even enjoy my grandchildren. I know that I need more outside help, and maybe even need to change our living arrangements, so I'm looking into that. What spurred me to write to you, though, was that people who were caregivers, but whose parents are long deceased, will say to me, "At least you still have your parents." This happens even if I just sigh or say that I'm tired. What's with these people? I believe that they are now glamorizing what they did. I'm sure they miss their parents, but I think it's the parents they had before illness took over who they miss. Their comments make me feel hurt and guilty. Do they know what they are doing? — OP
Dear OP: Your feelings are valid. I, too, become frustrated when I hear people admonish a caregiver in the trenches with the comment, "At least you still have your parents." Yes, it's good to remember and honor our loved ones' lives as a whole, which includes their healthy years as well as the wonderful parts of caregiving. However, we also need to retain some realism and have compassion for the active caregiver.
The people making these comments seem to either have short memories or else they feel guilty about implying anything negative about their lives as caregivers. They aren't necessarily unkind people, and I don't believe they mean to be hurtful, but their comments can come across as judgmental and thoughtless to someone seeking an understanding ear.
The fact that your parents are in their 90s indicates that you are probably a senior yourself and have been a caregiver longer into your own senior years than the people who have been sharing their opinions.
Now is when you should be enjoying your grandchildren and taking better care of yourself, physically and mentally. That means lowering your stress levels. Changes are not only advisable, but necessary.
You love your parents or you wouldn't be doing so much for them, but we all have limits and it's obvious that you are reaching yours. I'm encouraged that you are looking for outside help and/or different living arrangements. If you make this significant change, and also find an online or in-person support group where you can be understood, I think that your life will improve overall. Two well-moderated groups are Caregivers Action Network (CAN) at caregiveraction.org/community and the Caregiver Alliance at caregiver.org/support-groups.
When you're in a better place emotionally, you'll likely be able to let such comments go without allowing other people's attitudes and words make you feel hurt and guilty. A simple response such as, "Yes, that's true. I'm sorry for your loss," should end the conversation.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.