Saturday, May 7, 2011

Letting Go of Guilt

I sat on the side of the bed with my mother as she folded the last things to put into her suitcase. She could barely hold back the tears. I knew she didn’t want to leave, but what choice did I have? A job change was making it necessary for my husband and me to move to a new town. We had already purchased a new home there and our current house was for sale. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Mom to be alone with strangers coming in and out at odd times. My emotions were a tangled mess. Hurting to see her pain yet excited about ‘getting my life back’.

Mom had spent the previous eight months with us while my brother recovered from a serious construction accident. Although she had her own apartment and had been living independently, she was not able to drive herself to the doctor, grocery, etc. During her time with us, there had been signs of increasing forgetfulness and confusion. Signs I chose to ignore for fear it would mean she would have to stay with me.

I dearly loved my mother. It’s just that I didn’t like living with her. In fact, during those eight months there were times I thought I would lose my mind.

So now, here we were. As she recalled all the things she would miss about being with us, I simply sat there saying, “I know. I know. But we have to get the house sold and get this move behind us.”

I could have stopped her pain with a few words…all I had to do was to tell her she could stay. I didn’t and the guilt began.

Shortly after she returned to her apartment in W. Va. It was evident she could not live alone. My brother found an excellent caretaker with whom she could live. I let him take care of all the arrangements, guilt continuing to gnaw at me. When I visited, there were times when she seemed happy, others she spent accusing her caretaker of being mean. I always came away feeling even guiltier. Even though we had been given the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, that only explained her behavior. It did nothing to alleviate my thoughts of how I had abandoned her.

My mother passed away in September 1999. After the funeral my brother and I picked up the few possessions she had remaining at her caretaker’s home. On top of the box was a painting my husband had given her during the time she stayed with us. Beverly, her caretaker, told us there were times she would find Mom sitting on her bed with the painting in her lap, gazing at it and talking to herself. My heart broke again.

During those last years of Mom’s illness, I told myself over and over that I should be a better daughter. I should quit my job and bring her to live with me. Deep down I knew I couldn’t handle it but that didn’t stop the guilt. After she was gone, my guilt was as painful as the loss. I wondered if she knew how much I really loved her. Did she forgive me for making her leave my home? Would God forgive me for being so selfish to the one person in this world who loved me unconditionally?

I wish I could say that I found forgiveness and peace right away, but that would be a lie. I know that God has forgiven me for things I’ve done wrong and for things left undone that I should have done. What has taken much longer is finding a way to forgive myself. Only because of His unconditional love, His mercy and grace am I able to do that.

It still hurts to think about it. I still cry when I think about her last night in my home. But I know from my own heart as a mother that if she was able to speak to me right now from her home in heaven, she would say, “I love you. I forgive you. I’ll see you when you come home.” That is exactly what my Heavenly Father says.

One glorious day that will become a reality when I step into Heaven. Until then, I focus on the good memories of my mother and our life together.

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