Probably the hardest thing you have to deal with when someone dies are your feelings of guilt and boy are there a lot of them:
- You are alive and your loved one isn’t – this is a doozy because there’s just no getting away from it; it’s a fact. In the beginning you wish yourself dead because it’s the only way to get rid of this guilt; I thought about it many times when I lost my husband. The only problem is, all the pain that you feel and all the guilt would just be passed on to someone else – all those people that love you – would you really want them to suffer like that? Of course you wouldn’t. So, although this is, initially, the thing that makes you feel most guilty , for me, it was the first to leave me.
- Not being there when your loved one dies. This one still haunts me even though I had spent days and days at my husband’s bedside in the Hospice and was mentally and physically exhausted. How many romantic films have we all watched where the hero or heroine is holding hands with their lover on their death bed? How many buckets of tears have we cried as the lover slips away? It’s incredibly sad and incredibly romantic isn’t it? Trouble is life, and death, is not like that. My husband died at around 2am and I was at home asleep when I received the call.I spoke to one of the wonderful nurses at the hospice some days later and she said that, even if I’d been at my husband’s bedside when he died I could have fallen asleep or been in the toilet at the moment that he passed. She also said that the huge cocktail of drugs he’d been given meant that he would not have known if I was there or not. All of this I understand, it’s logical certainly, but it’s taken a very long time to realise that I cannot change the past and, if I don’t want to completely lose the plot, I just have to accept that.
- Not conforming to preconceived ideas of grief – On the way to my husband’s funeral I was laughing and joking with some of the members of his family and also at the wake afterwards. Somewhere in the back of my mind something was leaping up and down and screaming ‘what the hell are you doing? are you completely bloody mad?’ Possibly but maybe it was the only way I could deal with the enormity of what was happening. We can only base our actions on our experiences; if your only experience of a funeral is what you have seen in movies or on television you would expect it to be a sad and sombre occasion with the widow or widower stoic but with tears in their eyes. Unfortunately, life is not like the movies and, if you laugh or smile or if you collapse in a sobbing uncontrollable heap, it doesn’t matter – you are not an actor playing a part, you are a human being dealing with grief in your own way.
- Being happy – this one is a bugger because it’s a double edged sword. When someone you love dies you will grieve, you will be sad, you will cry but, eventually, you will find something or someone that makes you happy…….and then you will feel guilty. After I moved to the South of France I made a friend who’s a biker (as was my husband); the first time I sat on the back of his bike, hurtling along the Cote D’Azur at about 200km an hour on a brilliantly sunny day, I was happy. It was a real feeling and one I hadn’t experienced for over two years and it was over-whelming. The next day I shut myself away in my apartment and I cried, all day. It took a long while to work out what was going on as tears like this often have no real conscious thoughts behind them but, eventually I saw a pattern – every time I was happy I felt guilty and so, the day after I would cry. It still happens 3 years down the line but it’s getting easier..
There is only one way I have found to reconcile myself to these guilty feelings and that’s to imagine if I’d been the one to die first. I loved my husband with all my heart and soul and it would crucify me to watch him suffer guilt like this; if you truly love someone you will want them to be happy no matter what. The same applies if you can learn to love yourself……you will want you to be happy. The upside for be was that I have become a bit of an adrenaline junky – I hadn’t felt anything for so long that, when I finally felt happy, I wanted more. Hence I had a summer of white water rafting, jet skis, motorbike rides, go-karting and lots of other fun stuff. Also on the upside, the more I did, the less time I had to feel guilty………..