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Change and guilt - Carers UK Forum

Change and guilt

For anyone who is bereaved or no longer providing care.
I am posting this because this forum is often the only place where I feel that people really understand what I am trying to say.

I have been a widow now for two months. Early in November, it will be the first anniversary of the date when my husband moved out of our house to live in the care home where he spent the last few months of his life. If he were to return and enter this house now, in full possession of his faculties again, he would see and comment upon so many changes. I had to make quite a few changes while he was still living at home (probably because of the length of time we have lived here, a series of major appliances, from boilers to fridges, have packed up and had to be replaced over the last 3--4 years, the period during which his illness was progressing), but while he was still alive, I could at least tell him about them, whether he really understood or not.

When one shares a home with another person, decisions about buying a new tumble-dryer or getting the trees trimmed or moving the old CD player out of the study into the dining-room are all joint decisions. Now they are my decisions alone, and I feel guilty that I am changing his home without his explicit agreement.

This sounds crazy to some people, but it genuinely bothers me. I remember feeling it after the death of a beloved cat in 2001: 'if Riley were alive again and came in here, he would go straight to that new cushion on the sofa and inspect it carefully...'. Although I would not do it myself, I understand the emotional basis for those people who keep the bedroom of a deceased family member untouched and unchanged for years on end. Change, whether unavoidable or a matter of taste and choice, is a part of life. Life is mutable and dynamic: continual change is characteristic of it. Death is permanent and static. It does not change, but merely recedes into the past.

Does anybody know what I am talking about, and why this makes me feel so sad?

I know exactly what you mean. My eldest son and I were only saying yesterday that if my husband came back, he'd hardly recognise his garden - it was always very much his. However, from the day we moved in here, a happy young energetic couple in 1976, I always knew that the garden would cause me huge problems if he couldn't look after it. In 2006 he died suddenly, three months later I had a head on smash that nearly killed me, left me disabled in constant pain for five years. So change became an absolute necessity if I was to stay. The fruit trees have gone, the borders have all gone (lovingly planted together) there is a patio where the rockery was, the list is almost endless... The thing to always remember is that things do change, change is sometimes forced upon us. I can't begin to tell you how sad lots of the changes have made me, but I always focus on the fact that I have a very low maintenance garden, all cared for now by my sons. A quick whizz round on the garden tractor, lawn done. I've bought the best hedge trimmers, so sons can do them as easily as possible, stood on a Room Mate (like a scaffold tower only different). Not so much has changed inside the house, because I just haven't been able to redecorate - it's getting scruffy now, but it will be done soon. I don't even think my sons realise the full extent of my sadness, but I also have real pride in how we've taken everything life has thrown at us "on the chin" and we are still here, without having seriously fallen out. Quite an achievement!!!
Hi Tristesta,

I've not been in your situation personally, but a friend of mine lost her daughter (age 16) a few years ago now. She couldn't bear any kind of change for such a long time because, she said, everything in that house had something to do with her daughter, some sort of memory or connection. And changing that meant that she felt she was losing that connection with her, in some small way. So I can completely understand that changing things feels wrong and makes you feel a great sadness. I think it is probably completely normal. It took four years before my friend was able to go through her daughter's wardrobe and give some of her clothes away. I still buy her daughter a small gift for her birthday and at Christmas and I leave it on her grave; it just feels wrong not to get her something.

I know my friend created a sort of memorial garden for her daughter (in their own garden). She put a small bench there and some lovely flowers and decorated it with fairy lights and various garden ornaments she knew her daughter would like. It helped her to feel close to her. I wonder whether some sort of area you can dedicate to your husband would help with the changes you are having to make now, if there's somewhere you can keep as a spot for him that helps you feel close to him?
Thank you for the replies. It always helps to know that one's feelings have been shared by others in a similar situation.
Tristesa, I know exactly what you mean. Changing anything is a twofold blow - first it feels like 'betraying' our lost husbands, by changing things without permission, and secondly it hammers home the nightmare that they are not here to object....

'Absence' has a 'presence' that is hideously tangible...

I'm nearly six years out now, and I've done, I suspect, what others tend to do - which is change some things but not others.

Some of the changes I know my husband wouldn't approve. For example I bought cream coloured rugs for the living room - I can hear him telling me I'm mad! And yes, they are getting mucky very quickly - BUT, one thing his death has taught me is that we are not here for ever, and we must not keep putting things off, but we must adopt Carpe Diem as our constant watchword - I wanted cream coloured rugs, I've got them, and I'm enjoying them!

Some changes he would approve - again, I can here him saying 'about time!' on some of the household things. With those kind of things I'm afraid I go deliberately 'psychic' (or whatever!) and tell myself that we are making a joint decision, and to that extent I 'still live' in the house with my husband.....

Some things I don't change at all, and to be honest, I don't know when (if!) I'm going to change them! His clothes are all in his wardrobe, and in the drawers under the bed, and in a way that makes sense because not only are they not in the way, they are 'waiting' for our son to help himself to what he wants (he's already taken things like ties and belts, and I know he likes having his dad's things, it keeps him in touch as well). My husband's office is unchanged - except that I'm using it as a dumping ground for 'excess stuff' and again, I can hear him complaining bitterly!!! I go and sit in his desk chair every day, and have my daily 'think' about him. I findit comforting. For the first year my son and I wrote birthday, anniversary and Christmas cards for him, and they are neatly piled on the bookshelf. One day I must dust out the spiders' webs - it's looking very Miss Havisham!!!

I think that each of us bereaved does what each of us feels is best for ourselves - no right or wrong way to grieve, just our own way. It's the 'weirdest' time psychologically - I'd categorise myself as clinically insane any day of the week! Confronting death is almost impossible psycholgoically - the human mind is not primed to cope with 'non-existence' (which is probably why so many of us cling, like me, to 'continued post-death existence', and why not if it helps inthe slightest?)