Moving a loved one into senior care is not easy, no matter how much thoughtful planning goes into the decision. Feelings of guilt aren’t just common—they’re almost guaranteed.
To understand how to deal with these feelings, it’s important to be able to to identify them and realize these emotions are common and shared by others in similar situations.
Transferring a loved one into senior care can be a “grief event,” even though they are still alive and well, says Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation.
He described the line of thinking as, “I’ve lost someone I’m used to having in my home, or next door. Someone who can no longer participate in family events, or the joy and connectivity of a spouse.”
Even though you can still visit your loved one, you may no longer be able to interact with them as you used to, depending on their state or condition. Feelings of doubt, anger, loss, sadness—they can all stem from grief.
Even if you have made every possible consideration, researched all available options and consulted with doctors, it’s easy to start second-guessing yourself after the fact. You might start asking yourself—again and again—if you did the right thing.
“These are rhetorical questions with no real answers,” Friedman says. “They are the result of a broken heart talking.”
In other words, you’re yearning for the impossible. You want to see your loved one young and healthy again. You want to believe there was something you could have done to prevent all this.
Do your best to acknowledge and accept that you have done everything you could do.
Memory Care Grieving
If a loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, requiring memory care, it can be devastating for caregivers.
“Family members never forget, even if the loved one does,” says Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the Alzheimer’s Association. “I remember one man who had went to visit [his wife], and she said, ‘I wish we could be what we used to be’—but then she forgot she said it five minutes later. It tore him apart.”
It can be useful to keep a journal. In the case of the man above, he detailed what it was like caring for his wife full-time. Reviewing it helped him remember why admitting her was the right thing to do.
Process Your Feelings
Even if trips to a senior care facility are painful, it’s important to make them and evaluate your emotions after each visit, Friedman says. You can do this by talking about it to someone you trust, preferably on the same day. Getting those feelings out in the open prevents them from festering.
“It’s about processing feelings in the moment you have them, rather than pushing them aside and not feeling them,” Friedman says.
Be Honest With Yourself
When dealing with feelings of guilt or grief, ask yourself the questions:
- Did you do everything you could, at the time, to make your loved one as comfortable as possible?
- Did you have your loved one’s best interest and safety in mind?
- Did you explore all the options you could before coming to the conclusion that this was the best answer?
Chances are, you did all of those things and more. Cut yourself some slack.
According to Friedman, beating ourselves up is “the last thing we need when we’ve done the most good-willed thing we can possibly do: to give a loved one the best care possible when we were no longer able to do it.”
Read the rest of our 7-Step Guide to Senior Housing:
1. Recognize If Your Parents Need a Change
2. Learn About Types of Senior Living Communities
3. Assess Your Financial Options
4. Tour Senior Living Communities
5. Know These Senior Housing Lease Clauses
6. Make a Senior Housing Community Feel Like Home
7. Manage the Emotional Toll of a Parent’s Move