elderly friend in hospital -- the guilt, the guilt

My elderly friend, whose hometown is 70 miles away, is in a hospital here because her cancer has come back. Her pain is being well controlled, but she cannot get out of bed. She has had cancer for 5 years and has had 3 major surgeries. During past hospitalizations, I visited her 4 or 5 times a week. Between hospitalizations, when she was in an extended care facility, I made the 100-mile roundtrip to visit her weekly.

Six months ago she came into town for a checkup, and I met her at the clinic. A friend of hers was also there. Her friend was unspeakably rude to me, and I left. My friend was filling out paperwork and was unaware of the rudeness. I then didn’t hear from my friend for over 3 months. It became clear to me that I had been doing 100% of the work in the relationship, even before she got sick. I realize that her options are limited due to her illness, but I know she makes occasional long distance calls, and she is able to write. At her request, I had bought her some notecards and stamps, but I never received a note.

When she finally called, it seemed her motivation was that her daughter was ill and was unable to visit her, so she wasn’t getting the support she was used to. I didn’t go visit.

Another 3 months pass and her daughter calls to tell me my friend is in the hospital here. In the past, her daughter has not called me to give me status reports or to let me know when my friend has been moved from one facility to another (I’ve shown up to find out she’s gone). Her daughter lives 40 miles away and has made huge sacrifices to care for her mom, but I have to think her call to me was motivated by the hope that I would step in and take over some of the visiting and errands, as I have in the past.

Yesterday I went to visit. It’s a horrible situation because the cancer is going to kill her eventually, and she is totally dependent on other people for everything. (For example, I noticed that she was saving a piece of gum across meals, and I realized that she can get gum only is someone thinks to give it to her.) The visit was difficult for me because she wanted me to do things like give her a thigh rub, which I am uncomfortable with - she didn’t have on underwear and has a catheter. I stayed a couple of hours, and when I was going to leave, she became very demanding about small tasks she wanted done, such as rearranging her flowers, which I’d already done once. She doesn’t like to be alone, and obviously didn’t want me to leave. I had to get curt in order to take my leave. I dread going back.

My own father is in the hospital, 450 miles away. I’m trying to cope with that on a long-distance basis.

GUILT GUILT GUILT. My friend and my father both need an enormous amount of care and support. Friends and family are stressed to the limit. No matter how much we do for our sick loved ones, it isn’t enough. They suffer if we don’t visit, if we don’t get them the personal items they need, if we don’t keep a constant eye on the medical care they’re getting, if we don’t keep up their personal business while they’re unable to, if we don’t provide constant emotional support. I feel like a horrible person for not doing more and for having resentment about what I do.

I’d say your first priority is to your father. You’ve done what you can for your friend, and I think you will continue to do so, but your dad needs your first.

You’re only one person. Do what you can with compassion, and let go of the guilt.


What a strain for you. I do sympathise. Most of us have enough to do just keeping our own lives organised, and when family members get sick it is one huge problem.

Do as much as you can, and give only what you can give without resentment, till you find your balance again. It sounds like you’ve already been a great friend, better than most, and are feeling somewhat unappreciated.

I’d agree that your father probably comes as your first priority. Your friend has other family members that can pull their weight too.

Hang on in there. Pain makes people miserable to be around, I know.