Guilt: It’s a Part of Loss

Do you feel guilty? It’s ok. Guilt is a natural feeling to have after losing a parent.

There are five stages of loss and grieving. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. The one thing I learned after my mom died is that there are many different feelings that can occur during these stages. Also, for me, these stages did not follow any specific order. Everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

The one emotion that floored me after my mom died was guilt. Things I should have done or said. Things I wish I never had said or done. Every day it seemed that something new I wish I had done differently or said to my mom before she died would pop into my mind and haunt me. 

The guilt would not go away.

My mom was gone. I could not go back and change what had happened. I couldn’t call my mom and say “I’m sorry.” And the guilt weighed on me, dragging me further into my world of loss and sadness. I began to wish for just one more hour with my mom to tell her everything I hadn’t during the lifetime we shared together. All the things I had hidden from my mom I now wished I could share with her. I found myself talking to my mom, telling her how sorry I was, hoping that somehow she could hear me.

My cloak of guilt almost smothered me.

The guilt I carried for years after my mom died is a weight I wish for no one. It was a horrible way to live, and the feeling of guilt seemed to seep into every crevice of my heart. I don’t know why I felt such deep guilt. But it was there and I didn’t know how to escape it. I wasn’t the best daughter, but I wasn’t the worst either. And I made the most of the final 349 days of my mom’s life.

Then I realized something.

One day I was talking with my pastor. He had never met my mom, but I felt like I could talk to him and I knew I needed to talk to someone. He asked me a question. Is this the life your mom would want for you? The answer was an easy one. No. My mom would want me to be happy and not weighed down by all these negative emotions. I realized that for many months I had merely been existing, going through the motions of life, and not really living. I definitely wasn’t happy.

Change was slow, but I did it.

Shedding my cloak of guilt wasn’t easy. There were so many things I wish I could change. But I couldn’t change what I wanted to. I had to change myself, most importantly my way of thinking. I did the best I could as a daughter and a secondary caretaker. In those last months, weeks, and days of my mom’s life I did my best to give her what she needed and to bring happiness into her life. 

But most importantly, when my mom died she knew how much I loved her. I also knew how much my mom loved me and that the way I was feeling and living would make her sad. She would probably say something like “Oh Kathryn, don’t be silly. I love you and only want you to be happy.” I stopped myself when the feeling of guilt crept in and remembered my mom’s love. 

It is important to know that whatever you are feeling after losing a parent is okay. Guilt, sadness, anger, depression…these are all normal feelings that come with loss. Keep moving forward, one step at a time, and reach out to someone if you feel overwhelmed or need to talk.

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