My mother’s Alzheimer’s disease has gotten so bad her doctor says she needs to be institutionalized. But I promised her I never would put her in one of those places. So, I feel guilty. How do I find forgiveness for letting her down, since I can’t really communicate at that level with her anymore?
Haven’t we all wished that we could take back something we said? Sometimes, we make promises we don’t intend to keep. Sometimes, we make promises we intend to keep but can’t. Your commitment to your mother fits in the second category. You made the promise in good faith, but circumstances have changed.
Even though your intentions are the best, you still may experience guilt. Welcome to the human condition! Guilt is a part of life for anyone who has a conscience. Whenever we feel guilty, we need to determine if our guilty feelings are justified. If you are feeling guilty because you told your mother you never would institutionalize her and now you feel you must in order to best care for her, your guilt is unjustified. However, if you are feeling guilty because you don’t intend to continue to relate to her once she is institutionalized, your guilt is deserved.
The question you should answer is this: Am I trying to do what I believe is best for my mother? If the answer to that question is yes, then you are being true to your original promise, which was intended to assure your mother of your continuing love and care. If you wish to be faithful to this commitment, you must not forget your mother when she is institutionalized. Visit her, pray for her, keep her photos where you will see them in your home. Talk to the rest of the family about her. Keep her alive in your memory and conversation.
Forgiveness is something that can be granted only by the person who has been hurt. My hunch is that your mother would approve of the decision you make. She trusted you, or else your assurances about how she would be cared for in the future would have had no importance. She trusted you; she trusts you still.
Sometimes, we know in our heart of hearts that we have made the right decision in a situation, but we know our motives are mixed. Ask God to forgive you for any impure motives.
One final word of advice, as you struggle through this difficult situation, I recommend you talk with others about what you are feeling. Start with folks who know you—family, friends and pastors. Also, the Alzheimer’s Association has a helpful website ( HYPERLINK "http://www.alz.org" www.alz.org), where you can talk or e-mail with folks who are going through similar struggles. If there is a Stephen Ministry in your church or a nearby church, you might request a Stephen minister to walk with you through this time. Your mother may not be able to draw on these resources. You can.
Baptist Standard/Maston Foundation consultant
Right or Wrong? is sponsored by the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon School of Theology. Send your questions about how to apply your faith to email@example.com.