Someone dies and we are sad, that makes sense. We miss them, life has changed. We remember the good times…but what about the bad times? What about those?
I don’t miss disease. I don’t miss the strain created between being with my husband in hospital and missing the kids. I don’t miss the hard times it put on our finances and I don’t miss the struggles we had in our marriage after 20 years…does that make me a bad person? It doesn’t sound loving or caring. It sounds selfish. It certainly makes me feel bad, and that makes me feel guilty and that makes me sad all over again.
When my husband died I fell to pieces. I missed him with every fibre of every one of those pieces. My true love was gone and l was beyond devastated. I couldn’t see a way to fit those pieces back together to form any kind of a life. There were parts missing, like an old jigsaw from last Christmas carelessly tossed into the box without all the pieces . The picture could never look like it was supposed too. It would never be right.
I had rose coloured glasses on and I couldn’t think of a single bad thing he had ever done. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it was just a reflection of my love for him. That was real. But as the fog of grief lifted a little I began to see that life needed to be different. It had to be. I no longer had his pieces to fit with mine to complete the picture.
I had to live, parent, and work on my own. As my independence grew I began to discover things that I loved that I had either forgotten, given up on in compromise, or were new. I found laughter again, but it was different and often felt wrong, it felt like I was forgetting and that too felt like guilt. I didn’t want his family or friends to see me enjoying life, that heightened the guilt. Not because they wanted me to stay miserable or feel guilt, please know that, it was all internal. It was my perception of a life that still wasn’t quite making sense.
No marriage is perfect, if you tell me otherwise I would not believe you, I am no longer that naive. You only have to stay in one for awhile in order to see that. I think I gave too much, to my own detriment. I didn’t look after myself all the time and when I felt exhausted I chose the couch over the treadmill (not that I had a treadmill but I needed an analogy!!). I resented some of “our” choices and didn’t let go fast enough. I have a pretty tough exterior and I know I can find it hard to bend sometimes. That’s tough on a marriage. They are some of my faults, because I’m here and I can defend myself. Of course as a normal human being he had faults and made choices, some of them hurt me deeply, but he is not here, so I choose not to make a list of them.
Those hurts are hard to deal with, I can’t talk them through with him, I can’t yell at him, I can’t let him know how bruised I was, even when I pretended not to be. He will never know how I sat in the car park before work and cried. He will never know how I blamed myself and felt like I wasn’t enough. At least not to the full extent that only retrospect affords you. It makes me feel guilty to even think about, it feeds my grief.
Although I have often heard a widow use them in the same sentence, guilt and grief are not synonymous. One is a natural feeling after loss, the other leads to the decay of our heart. Guilt is a heaviness that seeks out our deepest frailties and plunges our emotions into darkness. It tells us lies about new happiness and whispers darkness into your soul. It is very real and it can destroy the goodness that you have found.
So what then? Can I hold him to account? Is there any point in bringing it up? Does it help me find pieces to complete the jigsaw? Actually yes, I think it does. If he was alive, we would say his mistakes were his to deal to deal with, not mine. The same is still true, it is not my guilt to take up now, I cannot own someone else’s mistakes. I know, I have tried it that way, but again so much guilt. These things are not easy to do, not easy to overcome. But little by little I needed to let myself off the hook of guilt. I slowly came to see that I needed to let go of his mistakes, or I would not heal. He was a good man, but I needed to grieve the whole marriage, not just the good parts. A jigsaw has the pretty colourful bits everyone loves to find but it also has the pieces that look ordinary and plain, you need both for the whole picture.
I needed to let him know how I felt. I wrote to him, letters that I threw to him in the ocean, as if sent of to him. It was for my benefit. It’s about how I feel about what he did, not about what he actually did . He can’t change anything and even though he tried often, he couldn’t boost my self esteem above the level my own internal dialogue dictated. That’s up to me and my own beliefs. I believe God can do the impossible, move mountains etc But He can’t change what I won’t let go of.
I had to find a way through, to let go. It wasn’t pretty, it was painful. But there is freedom in letting it go, in facing it. To stare at the ugliness of guilt, what caused it and decide not to be caught in its grip any longer. To understand that I was the one instigating the guilt and holding back happiness. Whatever he had done, forgiveness is my decision and the key to letting it go. And when I didn’t have strength to forgive, the God of all forgiveness could help, wanted to help, I just had to ask.
Grief is forever, you don’t just forget one day. But happiness is forever as well. They can coincide as part of a new life… if I let grace rule over guilt.
If I let myself off the guilt hook.
NOTE : If you are stuck you might need to talk to someone who understands, and if that means paying a counselor/Psychologist, DO IT. Do it sooner rather than later. I cannot recommend that strongly enough. They are trained to deal with the level of emotion you are feeling and are not personally involved so they are completely objective.
You are not defective if you need to talk to someone, you are normal.