The New Mommy Guilt: Putting Your Parent in a Care Facility

I heard her footsteps on the stairs last night — jolted out of a sound sleep and into the familiar world of worry.
Step, click, pause.
The foot, the cane, the balance check.
Exhaling in the dark, I realized . . . no.  I had been dreaming.  She’s not here anymore.  She’s walking in safety now, through hallways with sturdy rails, assisted by M.A.’s and C.N.A.’s and an alphabet soup of helpers who tend to her every need.
Although I understand that she will not shower at their recommendation either.
For weeks, I rehearsed the words I would use:
“Mum, you know that it’s getting harder and more risky for you to be walking around the house.  Your eyesight is getting dimmer, your balance and strength less reliable.  You cry every day over the walk to the bathroom.  It’s time for us to find a safer place for you with people who can care for you.”
Will this decision ever stop feeling like a thing that needs forgiveness?

I used to say that homeschooling my children was the hardest thing that I had ever done, but after five years of:

  • arguing against irrational choices (No, Mum, people with glaucoma cannot cancel their eye doctor appointments);
  • attempting to meet unreasonable demands (Mum, we just had hot dogs two nights ago. I can’t feed the family hot dogs every night);
  • defending boundaries and clinging to reasonable parameters of sane living (Ple-e-e-ease don’t put your fingers in the serving dishes) . . .

After five years of being a caregiver in my home, I thought I had identified my new “hardest thing.”

I was wrong.

As hard as it was to say yes to my mother’s request to live with us; as exhausting as it was to insist that she make good choices and then shift gears for the same kinds of conversations with four teen and tween sons; as discouraging as it was to find the same bathroom catastrophes on a daily basis—none of this compares to the process of moving her to a nursing home.

As Mum raged and refused, the paperwork process halted and jolted over ground that I thought I had already covered.

With her acquiescence came a slow smolder, and I could see that she did not believe that she was in any real danger in our home—any more than she believed me when I told her that her 3:00 a.m. movie marathons were waking me up.

“You can’t hear that TV through two closed doors!”

“Oh, yes, Mum. I can. Believe me, I can.”

A friend gave me some old pictures of my family the other day. I was in my twenties, my sister was visiting from Alaska, and my mum was just about the age I am today. She was smiling—the kind of smile that lingers after a good hard laugh. Those occasions became fewer as her days of caring for my dad came to a close. She bundled up his worldly goods and shipped them out the day he died along with any expectation of happiness beyond the radius of her chair and the nearest television screen.

When Mum asked to come and live with us, I imagined, briefly, that somehow this would redeem our relationship; that God would use Mum’s final years as a sort of rebuilding of the desolate places that Isaiah wrote about when he predicted a way of salvation from ruin through a Messiah who said:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me
Because the LORD has anointed Me . . .
To comfort all who mourn . . .
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD,
That He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1, 2, 3

That was not to be, at least not on this planet.

However, this does not mean that God has not been at work in other ways. I’m still in the process of sifting through the ashes, trusting Him to reveal the beauty, to give meaning to the years of mourning.

I am trusting for “the oil of joy” to lubricate my relationship with nursing home administrators whose frequent messages feel like calls from a school principal about a naughty child.

I am trusting for the “garment of praise” to protect my mind from the false guilt that measures every day and every minute between visits as if I could prove myself worthy of God’s love by winning the dutiful daughter award.

I am trusting for strong roots because I know that there is a generation of young saplings planted and growing who are learning from my husband and me what it means to value life, to respect a person as a bearer of the image of God when that likeness has become obscured by anger, bitterness, and dementia.

God is in the process of transforming my immediate and demanding “whys” into “hows”: LORD, how can this whole experience be transformed so that you are glorified in it? And, of course, I do not see the answer yet, but as Isaiah trusted and wrote about a salvation that he did not fully experience on this earth, I am also learning the wisdom of waiting:

“For as the earth brings forth its bud,
And the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”
Isaiah 61:11

Lord, let it be so.


Postscript: My mother passed away in May of 2017. In His mercy, God gifted a peaceful and pain free passage into His presence, and the memory of hard days in the  past strike a sympathetic chord in the present as healing and forgiveness take root. 

This post first appeared at Blessed but Stressed, a community of caregivers and faithful lovers of their family.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

6 thoughts on “The New Mommy Guilt: Putting Your Parent in a Care Facility”

  1. We think about this, but don’t express it. We don’t want to express it because then it will be true. We feel guilty. Sometimes the harder right is just that “hard.” I applaud you for being brave and loving your mother the right way. Thank you for sharing at the Loft. Blessing, Christine

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  2. Bless you, Michele. I’m still praying you feel peace. I know you so much better through your writings than I did when I first read this piece. I feel sure you modeled Jesus in this situation as much as possible because I’ve seen your heart for Him.

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    1. What a gift your words are. As convinced as I have been of the “rightness” of our decision, the sadness of it is still with me. Fortunately, I am seeing acceptance in Mum, and that does help.

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