Learning to Forgive Yourself When You Mess Up

When my mom was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, I would often take her to get her hair done and then we would go out to lunch afterward. One day, our usual lunch spot was crowded, so I decided to have my mom sit and hold a table for us while I waited in line to order our lunch.

I could see my mom from where I stood in line and I overheard her talking to a young couple seated nearby. She told the boy he looked like someone she knew. He replied, “Is that a good thing?” My mom smiled sweetly and said that it was. The young couple began laughing.

Striking a nerve

Something about their tone and laughter struck a nerve. I immediately left my place in line, walked over to the table where my mom was sitting, and told her we had to leave. I made her get up and walk out of the restaurant with me. I was horrified and embarrassed that she had been talking to this young couple. I thought they must have thought she was crazy.

In the car, I told my mom we would stop and pick up lunch to take home. She was clearly upset by what had just happened and even said, “I just think this whole thing is ridiculous.”

And you know what, she was right. It was ridiculous. I was ridiculous. I was so upset over what two strangers may or may not have thought about my mom that I made her leave a restaurant before we even had a chance to enjoy our lunch.

Looking back

When I realized what I had done, I felt terrible. I felt like I had made my mom feel stupid and embarrassed for no reason. What was worse was that she clearly knew something was wrong. She knew I had made her leave the restaurant because of something she had done, even though she didn’t really understand what had happened.

Later that day, I went home and cried to my husband about what I had done. I was so upset with myself. How could I have treated my own mom that way? Why did I care so much what two strangers thought about her? Was it really worth embarrassing my mom like that?

I felt bad about my reaction for a long time. I still feel bad about it even now that my mom is gone. But I have learned to forgive myself.

No manual on being an Alzheimer's caregiver

There is no manual on how to be a perfect caregiver, probably because there is no such thing. All you can do is continue to show up every day with as much love and patience as you have to give.

You are going to mess up sometimes. It’s inevitable. The important thing is that you learn from your mistakes and forgive yourself so you can continue being the best caregiver you can be on any given day. You can’t give your loved one the time and attention he/she deserves if you are constantly thinking about the past and beating yourself up for what you did wrong.

Learn from your mistakes and move on. Of course, it’s much easier said than done, but you owe it to yourself and your loved one to try.

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