I don’t know how many times I have started a post about “spirituality”, faith and beliefs, and what it all means in light of the recent deaths I have been dealing with. It’s a stumbling block that I keep getting tangled up in. But the blogging world is full of engagement, inspiration, and truly good writing, and I like where it can take me: away. I follow SwiftExpression, a very thoughtful and engaging blogger, and she recently posed some challenges. The one about “guilt” seemed like a meaty one to sink my teeth into. I actually thought I could write and avoid the topic of death, but nope. It works its way in everywhere. So here goes.
Blog Challenge: Does the feeling of guilt serve a purpose? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
I’ve always been someone who has carried “guilt”. Apparently, it is a part of who I am, though I’d like to change it.
When I was in high school I had an english teacher who had us reading a lot of “heavy” literature. I thought it was depressing, Crime and Punishment, the Metamorphosis into a giant cockroach, by Kafka…we were just getting ready to drown our teen problems of pimples and broken-hearts in *another* 50lb. Dostoevsky novel, when I had to put my foot down. (Don’t get me wrong, in hindsight, I am glad I read these books, but at the time it seemed like an endless train of angst-ridden stuff. And frankly, it was bringing me down!) So I expressed this to my parents, and there was a discussion with the teacher. But instead of feeling proud for having stood up for myself, I felt guilty – worried that I’d “hurt the teachers feelings”. I told my dad that I felt bad, guilty. He said, “Guilty!? Guilt is a useless emotion! Why carry that around? It doesn’t bring anything.”
Hmmm. A useless emotion. I heard what he said. I might even have agreed with it. Yet, even as an adult, I can’t seem to overcome feelings of guilt. When I speak up for myself, it comes with guilt. When I point out the truth in a situation, it comes with guilt. When I ask for something I need, it comes with guilt. When I return shoes to the store…I feel guilty for putting the store through the trouble. Ridiculous. Even just a year ago, when I asked for a hard-earned raise, I felt guilty when I got it. Seriously, even I find it laughable!
But the questions posed in the challenge offer up a good opportunity to explore this guilt.
In situations where it seems obvious, like doing something we know is wrong, guilt is our conscience, isn’t it? So yes, it serves the purpose of reminding us that we know “right” from “wrong” and if we feel guilty, then we have done something “wrong”. But what about the other times…like the ones I experience, where I feel guilty because I think my actions, words, or decisions, are of “lesser value” than those of the people they might effect. That’s really what’s going on, isn’t it? At least it is for me. It is a reflection of my true nature, ever the “accomodator”…feeling that other people’s needs, or feelings, are more important than mine.
Especially in the world of grief, after a death, there is a lot of guilt lurking around. It’s a big topic of discussion in blogs and support groups. I have, and probably will continue to experience it. My husband died in a whirlwind of 4 months. We were in complete shock, getting yanked around by the high speed train of cancer and doctors and treatments barely keeping our heads above water to reach the inevitable end-point, his death. Our only goal, really, was to try and slow the train down enough, so that my husband could leave this world without pain or medical drama. I’m not sure it went that way, exactly. He had pain, but eventually he was filled with enough drugs to (hopefully) escape it.
I really try not to dwell on what I did and didn’t do in his last months or last moments. I can stand back, and somewhat objectively see, that I did the best I could do.Yet there is a nagging voice regarding his last day alive…our last night together. The voice of guilt.
I was so tired. I had been coming and going to hospice, staying almost every night. I didn’t sleep much, wanting to be available, ready to call a nurse if needed, as he was in and out of sleep/consciousness. During this sacred time, what would be his last night alive, I could have been praying, or holding his hand, or saying kind things to him, or just “being” with him, but instead, I needed distraction. I had to send my mind away to be able to cope with what was really going on. I guess in a very loose way, I was paralleling his journey…I too, needed to escape my pain.
On his last night, I had downloaded Downton Abbey onto my iPad and throughout the night would watch it from the chair I was sitting in, next to his bed. If my husband had been sitting next to my deathbed watching movies on his iPad, I would have been insulted and pissed!! But I am not superhuman. Nor am I psychic. I didn’t know it was going to be his last night…and even though we all know a person goes to Hospice for one reason only – to die – I guess I just couldn’t absorb that truth until the moment it happened. Of course I dropped my iPad the second something changed in his state, and in his very last moments, I held him, and spoke to him and cried, but the fact that I couldn’t be “fully present” that whole night is what has had me feeling guilty.
But it’s time to let that guilt go. My husband and I were pushed to our limits as individuals, and as a couple. And there came a point in our journey together, a point that I had feared all along, where our paths as a team would have to diverge. Where he would have to do what he needed. And I would have to do what I needed. Even our rings, mine gold, his titanium, a physical symbol of our union, would not be able to bridge the gap between (my continuation of) life and (his) death.
So as this feeling of guilt keeps cycling back, I see the opportunity to change my relationship with it.
I agree with my dad. The emotion itself is not worth carrying around – yet I think its existence is of great value. Guilt might very well be the flag that goes up, reminding me, “hey! you just did what you needed to do.” But in these cases where it’s not about right and wrong, that flag should go down, as quickly as it went up. Not stick around like a buzzing mosquito causing me to second-guess my actions or decisions. I want to start treating it like a “hot potato”. React to the heat as it hits my hand, then quickly send it on its way. Decision made, partly from the mind, partly from the gut. A completely natural reaction…no time to mash, hash, bake or make fries of it.
So that is how I see my last night with my husband. Guilt might send up the flag to remind me of the moment that we had to go our separate ways, he dealing with his pain, and me, doing what I needed to do, to deal with mine. But I won’t let it challenge my instinct and reaction to protect myself. I did the best I could do, and that has to be enough for me, and him. No more guilt about it.