There is something I rarely discuss about grief. It is a pretty horrible feeling that gnaws at all of us and tends to play on repeat in our mind. We squirm and want to hide as we shoulder its shame. I wish I hadn’t….. Why did I….. I hope no one finds out…
Guilt. An emotion that doesn’t easily turn off. Think of that one thing you really regret from your past. Did your heart sink and your stomach turn when it came to mind?
I never expected guilt after my sweet husband Aaron passed away unexpectedly. Sadness was normal, and feeling numb made sense. I held my breath awaiting the anger phase (though it never showed up). But guilt came as a surprise.
Several days after my husband’s death, I felt its first twinge. I had smiled. Just turning up the corners of my mouth invited a prick to the heart. How in the upside-down world did I have the capacity to smile? Real or forced, I was shocked as soon as it happened. Like a fart during sit-ups. To make it worse, I even laughed a couple of times. What?! If I’d been an outsider looking in, that would seem impossible. Smiling and laughing are second-nature to us when life is normal; but when your next event is a funeral, everything is viewed from a different lens. I wondered if the “witnesses” were as surprised as I was.
Just days after I had the audacity to smile, my family and Aaron’s family ate dinner at our home (well, now it was just my home). I was in our, er, my, bedroom and heard laughter trailing from the kitchen. Days before I wouldn’t have thought twice of it, but now it had an amplified effect. How relieved I felt that others were able to do this simple expression of happiness. It gave me that nod of hope that maybe, just maybe, laughter could occasionally visit our home.
Magnetized by the merriment, I followed the sound into the kitchen where I saw family enjoying beer and wine. I realized I could not want alcohol now and perhaps for a very long time. The Old Me enjoyed a glass every now and then, but in my pain I did not even want to allow myself to experience any pleasure. I needed no temporary reprieve from pain. Drinking would make me feel better, buzzed, and distanced from reality….no thank you. I preemptively daydreamed the guilt I’d carry chatting with family and a glass of wine as my husband’s body lay in the morgue.
But a harder guilt was on its way. A heavier, much more serious one that wanted to paralyze me. It was like background music in my days, and if I’m going to be honest, I still sometimes hear the “music” play.
This guilt is twofold.
Part of the guilt is simply moving forward with life. Putting one foot in front of the other is hard yet required. As much as I wanted to stay in the fresh, raw moments of that August, time marched on. I signed our sons up for soccer, I shaved my legs, I made dinner. My heart stayed heavy as I went through the motions of day-to-day normalcy. It felt wrong to go out to lunch with friends. How could there possibly be gaps in between crying sessions? I had to reconcile the fact that I was still able to function after death invaded.
The more forceful aspect of guilt intertwined with grief involved the other gender. And I’ll save that for my next blog.