Caregiver Question | 04/04/24

I promised my father he’d never go into a nursing home. I need to break that promise and I’m heartbroken.

DEAR CARALLEL: My father has been living with my family since 2019. I don’t have any siblings and it seemed like a no-brainer after my mother passed away. He adjusted, we adjusted, and things were fine for a while.

But his health has declined and things have gotten challenging in the last couple of years. He’s diabetic and has steadily been showing more signs of cognitive impairment but that’s not even the most difficult part.

Our house isn’t large and we have 3 young children. It’s a noisy home with stuff everywhere even though we try our best to keep it clean. It’s getting harder and harder for dad to get around and I’m afraid that he could fall.

On top of that, he gets agitated and borderline mean when the kids “disturb him”. This leaves my wife angry and the kids are walking on eggshells in their own home. Then I’m something between sad and mad most days because of it all.

I’m not sure how much longer we can do this and I don’t think it’s the best place for him anymore. The problem is that I promised my father that I’d never leave him in a nursing home.

I can’t imagine breaking that promise but I think I need to. The guilt I feel even thinking about it is overwhelming. What should I do? –Darren in Kernersville, NC 

DEAR DARREN: I’m glad that you wrote in and the first thing I want you to know is that you aren’t alone. As someone who spends each day helping family caregivers like yourself, I often talk with people who’ve made the same promise.  

The fact that you made this promise is completely understandable, as is the guilt you are feeling. That being said, there are a few things that I recommend you keep in mind as you process and work through the emotional toll this situation is taking on you. 

We need to give ourselves grace

Nobody is ever completely prepared to be a family caregiver. Until we are actually experiencing it, we cannot truly understand the weight of the responsibility, or its impact on our life.

We are all doing the best we can for our loved ones and that is what you have been doing for your dad since you moved him in with your family–and probably before.

Try not to forget that. 

You made the promise in good faith

Things were different at the time you made that promise to your father. He was in better health, you had no way of knowing what the future would bring, and he was looking to you for assurance.  

When assuring your dad that you wouldn’t move him to a nursing home, you meant it. And I’d be willing to bet that you also meant that you would always be there for him. 

Maybe you didn’t say those exact words but that was the spirit of your promise. 

You can still honor the spirit 

While I empathize with the guilt that you feel at the thought of breaking it, it’s important for you to know that you can (and will) live up to the spirit of the promise you made to your father. Even if he’s in a nursing home or assisted living community.  

Transitions in care settings can admittedly be difficult but it’s important to look beyond the transition. It’s very likely that your dad could benefit from being in the supportive environment a senior housing community can provide, given his care and social needs.

He’ll get the care he needs, in an environment that hopefully suits him (i.e. no kids running around), and have ample opportunity for social interaction with peers as well as the ability to participate in activities.

Meanwhile, your family could get back to being the bustling household of a young family and clear emotional space for what matters most when it comes to your dad–you continuing to be there for him. 

Now, there’s an entirely separate conversation about how to find the place that’s right for your father. As Care Advocates at Carallel, we frequently help people with research and guidance through the process. Let me know if we can help you with that when the time comes. 

I hope this helps, Darren! 

All the best,

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate

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