Letting Go of Guilt

Letting Go of Guilt

I wondered if it would happen, wondered if guilt would find its way into my heart after Mom’s death. The nigglings of “I wish I had done more,” “I wish I would have stayed longer to visit with her,” “I wish I had made the time to have taken her out more.” I know that I did a lot for my mother, and I know that she knew I loved her with all of my heart…but still, in the dark of night, guilt comes to visit. I hear the words Mom would always say as I left her, “Oh, don’t go, let me just look at you. You’re always on the run.”

I have started having very disturbing dreams about Mom, probably just my mind still trying to work through the impact of her loss. In these dreams, Mom’s body is with us, looking very normal, but she is dead, though sometimes she sits up and just gazes forward. I always wake panting, with my heart racing, unable to go back to sleep without falling back into the nightmare. I wonder, is this a normal part of the grieving process?

Most of the time, I am able to smile and laugh as things come up that remind me of Mom, which seems to happen all the time. I treasure those those memories and welcome them. I don’t want to feel guilt, or hold on to sadness- I don’t believe in regrets. There was so much beauty in the closeness of my mom’s and my relationship, just as there was incredible beauty in being with her as she passed away. She told me over and over that she didn’t want to die alone, that she wanted me to be with her, and I am deeply grateful that I was able to give her that last gift. She is at peace…and now it is time for me to be at peace, too.

How do I get there, though? How do you let go of guilt when the person is no longer there for you to talk to, to ask for forgiveness and understanding? I guess the first place to look is in my heart. I know that everything I did for Mom was out of love. I know that I tried my best to juggle everything in my life to help her the best I could. I also know that I am human, flawed to the core. My strongest feelings of guilt come when I think of Mom’s last night in the Comfort Care room at St. Vincent’s. I had no idea it was her last night of life, and I was exhausted after weeks of not sleeping much. I was trying to sleep on the very uncomfortable couch in the room, and Mom kept waking me up all through the night. I know that I sounded impatient with her after it happened several times, though I immediately caught myself, and told her to please not feel bad- she had nothing to apologize for…I was just so very tired.

Now that I look back, I am sure she was just frightened, and wanted to know that I was there with her, wanted to hear my voice or feel my touch. She knew the end was coming, and told me early in the morning that she had prayed all night that she would die. Some part of me truly thought she would live much longer, but it was only wishful thinking. I am thankful that we were able to say the things we needed to say to each other….and with that, why now am I feeling these pangs of guilt? I know that I am often very hard on myself, and I realize that some of this could be triggered by the onset of Christmas commercials- each Christmas carol, each festive scene bringing a flood of memories and emotions.

I am going to give myself permission to feel the sadness of Mom’s loss when it washes over me, but much more so, I want and need to focus on the gift of her life, on the wonderful memories that I have stored away. Instead of focusing on all of the little things that I wish I had done differently (hind sight is always 20/20, Mom would say), I need to let myself see all that I did well for my mother, recognizing that I did the best I could- and I can’t ask more of myself than that. Maybe too, though, there is another lesson for me to take from this. Maybe it’s time to slow down some and take a close look at my priorities. Maybe I need to be more present when I am with those I love, and not so consumed and distracted by work responsibilities. Finally, maybe I need to stop analyzing everything so much, as I tend to do. It’s time to live in the moment, and to appreciate every single one of those moments- even the challenging ones…as they are usually the greatest teachers and gifts of all.

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