Dealing with the Guilt of Separation
- May 11, 2020
Senior communities in Kansas City are in a full lockdown from visitors.
Not being able to see your loved one in a senior living community magnifies feelings of shame and guilt.
The new normal of senior housing has been completely redesigned with the advent of COVID-19. Because of a great deal of caution to protect our vulnerable population, visitation has been halted.
All communities in Kansas City and the country are taking drastic measures to keep their residents safe. Whether it is independent living, assisted living, memory support, or full nursing care, everyone must be protected.
It takes incredible coordination to protect residents, families, and staff. Rules have to be followed.
Many resident families have found ways to stay connected, but that may not eliminate feelings of guilt.
There are many ways to stay connected, but face to face visits are off-limits. Families are “visiting” through windows, dropping off care-packages, doing FaceTime calls, and other creative ways of connecting. But that may not eliminate the feeling of guilt that surrounds the whole relationship.
What’s the difference between shame and guilt, and how do I deal with it?
There is a subtle but important difference between the two that should be recognized. Guilt is a matter of right and wrong. We usually know if we have done something wrong and feel ashamed or remorseful about our actions. That could come from something we’ve done or something that we have neglected to do.
The way to resolve those feeling is to ask forgiveness for the action. Hopefully, the feeling of guilt can be dealt with or at least acknowledged.
Shame is different. It is a feeling that has no origin in our actions. For example, a person might feel shame because they feel like they don’t fit in. Those feeling have no basis in fact. Shame is a result of self-restricting beliefs. There is no guilt but a feeling that something is wrong about you.
How does that understanding apply to our current situation with the limited visitation of loved ones?
Many family members are suffering from vague feelings of inadequacies. They cannot visit their loved ones now, and they actually feel ashamed. There may be a sense that they have deserted their parent or neglected their responsibility. That sense of shame could go back to making the decision earlier to move into a community. It might be based on some “if-only,” thoughts, like, “If I had only known this would happen, I would have had Mom live with me.”
It is important to recognize what is happening in your thinking. There is no need to feel shame. We are living in incredibly difficult times, and there is no reason to carry that burden.
What if I really feel guilty?
If you are genuinely feeling guilt and are remorseful for some action or non-action, then the cure is to pick up the phone and make that call and say, “I’m so sorry for ___.” Family relations are very complicated and have a long history that may intensify those feelings. But it is never too late to ask for reconciliation. What usually happens is we learn that there is remorse on both sides.
This unique time in our lives is a rare opportunity.
The silver lining of this pandemic is that we have so many opportunities to right some wrongs and make things better. We have time to think through our relationships and make peace with those that we love and are important to us. Maybe it’s time to write that letter that is overdue, letters of honesty, and appreciation. It could be a time to do something much more significant than a quick drop-by visit.
There will be many lessons learned through this time.
We may come out of this a kinder and more gentle culture. We may learn to value our Elders and make more time for them. If it is true that “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” then we’ll change the way we interact with older family members. I think we are learning that time is our greatest gift.
One thing we know is that in every crisis, there is an opportunity to grow and change. This particular crisis affects every area of our lives and may provide for a restructuring of our priorities. We can use this time to rethink all of our relationships and how we can make time for everyone who is important to us.