My friend was the primary caregiver for her late father.
Her parents were divorced and she was the youngest of three. When her dad became terminally ill, she moved him closer to her home so she could advocate for him during his procedures and eventual hospice care. Her other siblings chose not to become involved for various reasons and allowed her to take on the lion’s share of the role. When her father eventually passed away, my friend felt happy that she had helped her dad and had no regrets about her commitment to him. Her sister, on the other hand, was remorseful that she had not done more to help. “I really feel bad that I didn’t do more for Dad,” she confessed to her younger sister. My friend was not moved, “That’s really your problem. You made that choice and now you have to deal with it.”
When my friend told me her story I was struck by the lack of sympathy when dealing with her sister’s guilt, but she was correct. Her sister had made her own choices and set her priorities in such a way that she now had to live with the consequences of her decision. Now it was up to her older sister to work it out in her own mind and heart.
The beauty of this life for most of us is that we do have choices.
We can live independently of others, spread out from our families, devote ourselves to careers, clubs, children, pets, hobbies, etc. Many of us live in advanced societies where we do not need to rely on anyone else and so we might come to expect others to find someone else to help them when they need assistance. We can decide to get involved when people need help or focus on our own needs.
It is perfectly acceptable to place your own needs before another’s.
It is okay to say, “I cannot help you because I will place my well being or the well being of someone else who needs me at risk.” But I think that in order to take that position, you first have to meet two criteria.
- The person who needs help must be able to receive it somewhere other than from you. If someone truly needs care, can they get it from another family member or a friend or an agency? If at all possible, you should not abandon the obligation to help without confirming that their needs will be met in another way.
- You should be able to live with the consequences of your action or inaction. Before making a choice about whether you will provide care for someone, think about how you could feel later when the opportunity to help has passed. Could you feel guilty that you did not help the person in need? Might you feel bad that you allowed someone else to shoulder the burden without you? Can you accept feeling guilty and, if so, are you capable of forgiving yourself? Only you can answer the questions but sometimes it is easier to answer them in hindsight. Sometimes you anticipate you will feel one way about a choice but in the end what you feel will be different. Regardless of your best guess, you will have to live with your decision.
The decision to become a caregiver for a family member or friend is not an easy decision for everyone.
Some people feel obligated to help without a moment’s hesitation; others struggle with the potential demand on their time and energy when weighing their options. You do not have to become a caregiver. But you should consider the person’s needs and the demands that will fall to others because of your choice. Give your decision to avoid caregiving some deep thought.
No matter what you decide there will likely be a burden.
You might feel the weight of it while you are caregiving or you might feel it later when the opportunity to help has passed. Choose wisely.