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Guilt: How Do Family & Friends Really Feel About Sick Loved Ones?

We feel guilty because our partners, parents, kids or friends take care of us when we’re sick. Not only that, they have to pick up the slack of the of chores, errands and responsibilities that we couldn’t take care of.

We feel guilty because we call in sick to work, cancel plans with friends, sleep too much, tell everyone around us to be quiet, have dust bunnies under our beds and in the corners and even in the middle of the dining room table.

We feel guilty because we don’t go to our kids’ soccer games, return phone calls, stop to chat with neighbors, enjoy the sunshine/snow/rain, take the dog for a walk, cook dinner.

I wrote that last September and was overwhelmed by the responses from people who also feel guilty for letting friends, families and coworkers down. Lots of us obsess about this, but have you ever asked them if they truly feel let down? I haven’t.

The teacher of my meditation class told stories of previous class members who were wracked with guilt and worried that their families and friends were disappointed in them. Actually asking the families and friends revealed an entirely different truth: They did not feel let down, but were sad to see their loved ones suffering. They all felt helpless and wished they could do more for the person with illness.

So the guilt is on both sides. If only we could figure out how to meet each other in the middle. Have you asked your loved ones what your illness is like for them? Let us know in a comment on this post or on the online support group and forum.

7 Responses to Guilt: How Do Family & Friends Really Feel About Sick Loved Ones?

  1. Stacia says:

    Oh yeah, my husband feels let down constantly, and gets quite angry if I can’t pick up the slack for him when he decides he doesn’t want to do something. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever known a co-worker, relative, or friend who didn’t get irritated with me when I was sick or unable to do something they wanted to do.

    This isn’t the situation for most people, though. To go way into TMI territory, I seem to attract people who get irritated when I can’t do things for them, which is why I am pretty deliberately alone right now. In no way am I saying everyone is in this situation.

  2. K1Frog2 says:

    I have this fantasy about living alone in a little house where no one is hurt by my illness, where no one has needs I’m not meeting because my head hurts. Then I have a day where the pain is tolerable and I realize how lonely I would be without my family. It’s not easy, but I think we are still better off together than apart. When that changes, then I will leave.

  3. Sue says:

    Well, in our house it was sort of a shared guilt thing. Hubby lives with MS and is limited in many ways, so when my headaches limited my ability to participate in some activities, he really couldn’t say much even if he was feeling it.

    I’ve never done the guilt thing with him – he can’t help that he’s so limited, so what would be the point. I think he sort of organically picked up the same attitude (or had it inherently) when my headaches started in 2005.

    What we did a lot was apologize to each other, which was also not necessary for either of us. We could not change either condition. But we apologized anyway. It started to sound kind of silly sometimes. “I’m really sorry” “No, I’m really sorry.” And so on… looking back it’s actually kind of funny now.

  4. becky says:

    My guilt has now extended from my DH to my son (almost 3). For most of his life, I tried to hide my headaches. Didn’t work. From birth the little stinker knew I had a h/a based on my tension, and would be harder to put to bed on those days. Finally a fellow pain sufferer (RA) told me to be honest with my son about when I’m hurting. So I tried it, and had a wonderful response from him. Now when I get testy, he says matter-of-factly “Mama’s head hurt. See doctor, get better!” :) He then kisses my head, and sure it doesn’t cure things but it brightens my day about 1000-fold.

    I’ve never aksed my DH this question, but think I will. He’s a generous, kind man so I have a feeling I know the answer. But I should hear it from his mouth.

    Thank you so much for this post.

  5. NHKAT says:

    I ALWAYS feel guilty! I remember, when my kids were little, I had promised to take them to Sesame Street Live. We planned it out for two months, and they were so excited. The day of the show I ended up with a bad migraine and my husband ended up taking them. They were disappointed and so was I. I know they always feel bad for me when I am sick but, it doesn’t help when I know I’ve let them down. They are now 14 and 18, the 14 year old gets migraines chronicly like I started with at her age, the 18 year old gets like one a month with her period. I always hoped the hereditary angle of these headaches would bypass them but, it didn’t so, now I feel guilty about that, too. (I get them, my mom gets them…way past menopause induced by breast cancer treatments, my gram’s sister had them into her seventies until she died of breast cancer, my brother gets them, all six of my dad’s sisters get them. I guess the odds were stacked against them.

  6. Robochicken says:

    I was injured at work over 4 years ago and live in chronic pain, which has gone from nerve damage in my neck, to herniated disc in lower back to DPH and now occipital & supraorbital neuralgia. I also have ADD, notice the H is missing (ADHD), since the injury the hyperactivity is gone). Do I feel guilty that my husband has to do 90% of the work around the house now, run a private practice and watch me suffer in pain (I’m allergic to pain meds). YES. Does he let me know how hard it is for him, YES! Can I blame himf or feeling like he does, NO. He’s basically married to no one now. I can’t to any activity that requires leaning forward, looking down without it causing nerve pain in my neck/left arm.
    Some day (alot of days) I want to move into a little maintenance free house and just live there alone so no one has to deal with me. I feel like a burden, I am a burden, I’ve been told. I guess having someone tell you they don’t like coming home from work to me, that it’s my fault for getting hurt at work, that I’ve ruined our marriage, etc. makes my life more stressed which of course, makes my pain and depression worse.
    Life suck then you die, I’m ready and waiting.

  7. notalone says:

    I just stumbled on this blog and this post brought tears to my eyes. I feel just like this too. There are days when I feel so bad for my husband when he is doing everything.

    The guilt is awful. He always tells me not to worry, that I am sick. But how can it be helped?

    I feel so blessed to have this wonderful person in my life.

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