How can I ease my guilt for not being able to visit my father enough?
I live in another state and am an only child. My 95 year old father lived independently until a fall some months ago. After rehab it was clear he would need 24 hour care, so after much discussion with him, he decided to stay where he felt most comfortable instead of moving near me. I wanted him to make the decision and although he is 95, he is mentally in great shape. I have visited him every month since his fall and have taken care of everything for him, to be comfortable at his new residence. Now the tough part, I worry as if he was a child. He had me late in life so I have a family of my own to care and a job and can no longer visit monthly. I speak to him alot but feel so guilty for not being there and not having him closer and everyhting else I can feel guilty about. I just wanted some advice on how to cope with the guilt or am I doing something that I can do differently that would help. THanks
There are several ways you can ease your feelings of guilt as a long distance caregiver about not being able to visit your father as often as you would like. The best way is to find some surrogates to do the visiting for you. Depending on your financial condition, you can work to find some volunteers, paid caregivers, or a private geriatric care manager. You can also chose to have a combination of all the above.
Volunteers: Many churches have programs for visiting the elderly in facilities. Many senior centers also have seniors who visit seniors. Ask the facility managers or social worker about volunteer organizations and call about options.
Caregiver Services: There are services that provide caregivers who are trained and the companies are licensed and bonded. These services are called personal assistance services. Again use the facility to ask about companies with which they have good experiences. The Caring website under the Senior Living Directory also lists these companies. Get a couple of names and contact the companies. The companies will meet with your dad and make an effort to find a person compatible with your dad. The person could visit with your dad, do errands for him and activities with him, help him to send you e-mails, SKYPE, etc. The cost varies but the average is around $20 per hour. You could hire the service to have someone with your dad once a week or as often as you wanted and could afford.
Private geriatric care manager: A care manager is a professional that serves as an advocate for your dad and could be your eyes and ears. They would see your dad on an agreed upon schedule and send you a report about the visit. If you had a volunteer or a caregiver working with your dad, the care manager could visit your dad when the other service providers are there and validate their services as well as make additional recommendations. They can be an advocate for your dad with the facility where he resides. You can search for private care managers on the Caring website Senior Living Directory. There is also on the same pages with the care manager names in your dad's area information about questions to ask to determine a good fit for you and your dad.
Although you are not physically available to visit your dad, you can alleviate your guilt and concerns, by using these surrogates to bring extra care to your dad and peace of mind for you.
Our circumstances are in some respects similar but I have siblings. My sister helped me to look past my issues to see that our father was genuinely pleased to see me or have news from us. It helped me learn that the best use of the limited time we got together was in letting go of my guilt and having that same kind of loving pleasure being with him.
Our father was a wonderfully interesting man and when I did get to be with him I learned to ask him for stories from his past, or family history, or leaf through photos and listen to his recollections. Sometimes it meant hearing the same story several times. Sometimes he would tell the same story with significant changes. It no longer mattered. What was important was that the times we had together allowed us to express our admiration and love for each other more openly than ever before in our lives. Even sitting with him as he slept allowed it, quietly holding his hand or stroking his hair.
If you have access to an EAP through your or your spouse's work, or if your insurance allows, consider seeing a therapist or psychologist for a short time to talk through your guilt. Perhaps you have a trusted friend or someone through your religion that can serve the same role, to listen, draw you out, and help you work through the guilt feelings. I hope your father would not want you to be burdened by guilt over his condition.
Make a real effort to enjoy what you do have with him, and keep looking for ways to express your love for him. When you are able to spend time together, put your own issues aside, if possible, and enjoy the gift of still having him, his pride in you, and his unwavering love. These are remarkable things.
Also take care not to infantalize him. He may have diminished abilities but this does not make him your child. Thinking of him in this way could rob you both of the precious relationship that has built up over your entire life. Yes, he may rely on others for personal care now but this is a reality of age and does not reduce him to the state of being a child. It helped me to think about the many ways each of us relies on others for care in one form or another throughout our lives. It helps, when together especially, to think of what his needs are and to anticipate them, looking to meet them in a way that dignifies him.
I hope I haven't gone on too long and that you'll be able to take something helpful from my comments. May you still have many years of joy with your father ahead of you,
Ben Karlin Saint Louis, MO
You can also schedule customized cards to be sent to your Dad at regular intervals (e.g., 1 each week) via www.SendOutCards.com. I don't sell these, but I do use them myself and I love the concept. They also sell really good brownies and things of that sort so you can surprise your dad with treats now and again. If you have trouble, just let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll help you out.
Also, it's important to be honest with your Dad. Let him know that you're feeling badly about not seeing him enough. Talk it out. I do so with my folks all the time, and that gives them an opportunity to be honest with me about what's on their minds/in their hearts. We usually end up in a better place as a result.