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Guilt - Can It Block Healing?


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I can't believe I've been posting here for two years. And during that time, I've included guilt in many of my postings.

I seem to be healing very slowly - so slowly, I scarcely notice any progress at all. Looking back I can see some positive things happening, but it seems to me that other people in my situation are doing far better. I wonder if part of my problem might be guilt.

My husband and I were very close and we loved each other, but our marriage wasn't perfect. We definitely had some rough times, though things had finally smoothed out the last few years before the dreaded cancer diagnosis. We raised four sons who all turned out well, but life was stressful at times with four children. In spite of it all, our family was a tight-knit group - our own little clan, my husband used to say. Sometimes I think we might have been too focused on our kids and not enough on our marriage. Actually that was my fault, I think. I was so worried about being a good mother, that I think I might have been a not-so-good wife. At times, anyway. I didn't appreciate my husband enough - didn't always treat him the way he deserved.

Most people in this forum seem to have had perfect marriages. Somehow that makes me feel even more of a horrible person.

Someone posted something about dating again. This seems impossible for me. Not just because it's hard to imagine sharing my life with someone other than my husband, but also because I feel this tremendous guilt about not being the wife I really wanted to be to the man I loved for 30 years and lost. I don't feel I deserve love again.

Guilt was my unwanted companion throughout the first three or four months of my grief - and now it's returning. Maybe because part of me wants to move on, feel normal. Guilt is blocking my way, reminding me that I'm not worthy of happiness.

Is there any way out of this?

Melina

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Melina, It is hard to believe how well you have stated many of the same things that I have felt over the past two years. No, the marriage between my Lisa and me was not perfect. In fact I am quite sure it was her own goodness that saved us more than once. Yes the challenges of working, surving, raising a family and an abundance of other elements has a tendancy to distract us from the one we have committed ourselves to, and yes it is only now in the reality of their absence do we fully comprehend how precious it is what once we had. In fact my own guilt has led me on occasion to post some rather dark and brooding thoughts here, and for that I have regret. The fact that you have shared such depth of emotion in your post signifies to me that you were the best wife you could be. In my own reflections, I know in my heart that through out the duration of my wife's illness, I was given the opportunity to tell her repeatedly every day how much I loved her and how blessed I was that she allowed me to share her life with her. I hope that you were able to convey that to your husband and that it brings you peace. I hold onto the belief that somewhere, somehow, that those who have gone before us are waiting for us and will receive us in the fullness of time. I pray that you hold on tightly to the good things and keep guilt at bay. Marc

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Dear Melina: I have not posted here for a long time but I continue to read. Your post could have been written by me. I can not rid myself of the guilt and when I talk about my spouse, I can't get through it without tearing up. No wailing anymore but just sadness. So much guilt for the same reasons you have posted. I was not the most loving person at times... and bless him he was so giving . Looking back on your lives together I can see that now.... 90 percent him and 10 percent me. I had a nine year old from a previous marriage and I don't think I really ever let him be a parent to my son. He was always MY son, but he loved him as his own. My son is now 26 and he couldn't have loved his stepfather any more and misses him as much as I do. But I carry a lot of guilt and also can't seem to move forward as fast as some others. I will be starting my second grief support group on Wednesday. I feel like a support group junkie but feel like I still need something. It has been 16 months for me. I am coming to terms that it may never change for me, always missing him and feeling that I wasn't all I could be for him. Blessings

Becky

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Melina,

Reading your post made me think of how much more difficult my passing would have been for Celene, had I gone first. I do not know your husband, although I can tell you that Celene would have echoed your words as she reflected on our marriage. I know there were times when Celene felt that she didn't offer as much to our marriage as she wanted or could; I however know that her love for me and our family was nothing less than mine. We had our moments as I believe all married people do. I do know that I could have let her know more often that I appreciated her and how her being in my life was the reason I thrived to be better; for my family and myself. When I met Celene, she had a 4-year old daughter; Ciara. At times I wished Celene would have let me be more of a father to Ciara than I was allowed. Although, looking back now, Celene opened her world to me as much as she felt safe with and the bond that Ciara and I have now is proof of that.I am sure that as a mother, you too had the protective interest in your son's life. The fact that your son misses him is a good indication that your husband was given the gift of being a father to your son also. Prayer and belief.

Anthony

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I don't think any marriage is perfect. Mine wasn't. Arthur and I had to work through a lot to get to a good point. The last three months were wonderful, but it took us work to get there and I know that we would have had more dips if he had lived longer. Relationships are like that...there are dips and waves. I am grateful he died during a wave when everything was going wonderfully so the memories that are closest to the surface are all positive.

We had times where I got really frustrated by his tendency to hold everything in. When something was bothering him he wouldn't tell me. It usually took me nagging at him to get him to talk to me. Arthur had PTSD from his time in the Army and as a result he experienced a lot of paranoia and depression. I have tendencies toward anxiety and due to a really bad first marriage a lot of self doubt.

I know when someone we love dies we all have a tendency to talk about only the positive as though our departed was a saint and our relationship was perfect...but Arthur was a real person and our relationship was a real relationship. Please don't think you are the only person who was imperfect. We are people with good points and bad...that is what makes us all interesting.

As for guilt...I had a lot of survivors guilt after Arthur died. He always worked to be healthy and honestly I am a lot less motivated. I don't exercise a tenth as much as he did and I eat way too much sugar and junk food...and yet I am the one alive and he is the one who dropped dead at 37...it just does not seem fair.

What I have tried to do is focus on how Arthur would feel...would he be angry at me for living, would he want me to dedicate the rest of my life to his memory, or would he want me to do my best to heal and be happy...to fight to find joy in my life? I know that Arthur loved me. He considered me his "happy place" and while things were not perfect he would not be looking down at me finding fault.

*hugs*

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Melina,

I am an expert on guilt. I have wrestled and wrestled and wrestle with it since Bill died. I believe I have finally come to terms with it. I started to look hard and understand more about what happened to me during Bill's illness....and saw that we really had two patients in this house....one with Alzheimers and one in trauma and exhaustion.

Previous to his illness, before Alzheimer's all but took over our lives, our marriage was incredible but certainly not perfect. We had our moments, our disagreements, struggle like any other couple....what I would call normal challenges of two human beings living and loving together. Our phenomenal foundation was what we always had when surface issues challenged us. None of those challenges really got to me after Bill died but certainly I have beat myself up for not being 500% perfect during his illness. I better understand now what happened to me and it has helped and I feel like I have moved from guilt to regrets which is easier to accept and live with...i.e. accepting what happened but wishing it had been different. I do think guilt gets in the way of grief as it tends to become a focal point instead of the sadness and loss. I think there are two kinds of guilt....mind you that my knowing this did not really help me with coping with guilt anyway early on. One is neurotic and one is healthy. E.G. If I deliberately did something to hurt someone and feel guilty...that seems like healthy guilt. If, however, I am beating myself up for not being perfect, for being human, or whatever...not so healthy...can be neurotic. I suspect most of the guilt we have experienced in this loss and on this path is NOT healthy guilt i.e. where we deliberately set out to hurt the person we loved most on the planet but rather guilt we create because we were not perfect....ie. we were human.

Peace

mary

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Thanks for your responses, everyone. I still feel guilt, but it helps to know that it's not an uncommon feeling. I just wish I could stop ruminating over the bad episodes of our life together. I know there were good times because I remember laughing and being happy together. We wouldn't have stayed together for so many years if there hadn't been good times. But it's the bad patches that provide the most vivid memories right now. If only I could forget them or block them out.

My husband was a genuinely good person through and through. He was a little impulsive and not good with money, but marvelous with the things that counted most. He was optimistic, supportive, caring, loving - someone who noticed and appreciated all the little things in life. I was more of a pessimist and a worrier, prone to depression and anxiety. I must have been such a burden sometimes. If only I could turn back time and change things - change myself.

Often I think - it should have been me who died. The world would have been a better place with him in it instead of me. Apart from our sons, no one would have missed me much. Everyone misses Thyge. Although, who knows - if there is a God and a hereafter, maybe this is something I am supposed to learn - how to appreciate life and be a better person. It's just that it's not so easy.

Melina

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Although, who knows - if there is a God and a hereafter, maybe this is something I am supposed to learn - how to appreciate life and be a better person. It's just that it's not so easy.

Melina

Metteline

I like this thought that you expressed. I do tend to look at Bill's qualities as opportunities for growth and reminders. Someone told me once that they saw Bill as highly evolved...I believe they were correct...and I know he and I saw each other as each other's teachers along with being friends, lovers, spouses, co-workers, etc. So I often think about how he would handle a situation or feeling and decide if that is how I would like to deal with it. I can never ever forget how kind and compassionate and non-judgmental he was....and I take that lesson with me everywhere I go. He had his weaknesses also, of course, but I believe people come into our lives in part to teach us what we need to learn. Bill, i am certain, had many lessons for me as I did for him. So I try to focus on those. I now know well enough that when the grief waves hit, I am able to allow them to be for a while and then get up and do something or call someone or just take Bentley for a walk (though sometimes that backfires as I walk and cry). I understand how we can so easily get hung up on the tough times and bad memories. That also happens to me. I keep a list on my computer of happy memories and a friend gave me a lovely box which I keep on my cocktail table and it is filled with joyous pictures....so when I get bogged down on everything I did wrong or on the pain he was in (which happens less and less often now...thank goodness) I put energy into reading this list of happy memories and looking at happy pictures. It all helps and I put a lot of energy (sometimes it takes a ton of energy to make myself step out of that sad place) into doing these things to help counterbalance the sadness, emptiness and longing. I guess I am trying to balance it all...not deny my grief and not deny good feelings. I struggle with empty a lot yet. That is tough for me.

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Here is a poem I got at a grief support meeting. It does help me.

You can shed tears that he is gone.

Or you can smile because he lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back.

Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can't see him.

Or you can be full of the love that you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live for yesterday,

Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember him and only that he is gone.

Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.

You can cry, close your mind, be empty, and turn your back.

Or you can do what he would have wanted, smile, open your eyes, love and move on.

Cosel

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Melina,

Since none of us are perfect, our marriages can't be perfect either, but I like to say George was "perfect for me". Everyone has their problems and it's not uncommon for mothers to focus on their kids during their growing up years, that's just what we do. George wasn't the father of my kids, but I have to say my kids' dad and I should have focused on each other more over the years, our 23 year marriage didn't survive because of it, while he focused on his career and I on raising the kids. It is one of the regrets that I have and that is one of the things my son discussed with his fiance before they were married, he wanted a marriage different from his dad and I. I told him he's have to make concerted effort to focus on each other because it's real hard when you're going through it and this one has a t-ball game and that one has skating practice and you have to fit dinner in there somewhere and they need help with homework and someone calls and wants you to be in charge of fundraising for the school this year, etc. etc.

Melina, it's not about having a perfect marriage, we all did the best with the knowledge we had at the time, and if we didn't do things perfectly, well, we tried. We miss them like all get out now, and that's a testament to what we had. And even my kids' dad and I, even though our marriage didn't make it, we still care about each other and acknowledge we were good parents. I wish someone had told me back in the beginning that the best thing you can do for the kids is love the other parent. :)

I like Anthony's response, it's good to have the other perspective.

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Melina,

I have felt a lot of guilt. My therapist gave me several exercises to do that really helped me shed some of the guilt. Marty also posted an article on guilt back in 2011 around new years on Open to Hope. Maybe she can dig it up for everyone. Here is what I copied down:

Write a letter to your loved one and list the things you are sorry for and regret. Let it all spill out. Ask your loved one to forgive you. But do it in writing. Review your letter whenever you feel really guilty and read it outload. (this really helped me!!)

When you think about all the should haves, could haves and if onlys. Stop and tell yourself that the past is something you can do absolutely nothing about. It's how you live and behave now.

Remind yourself that you did not know your loved one was going to die or you would have done things different. Now that you understand the guilt and horror associated with death you will live your life in a different way and you will treat those in your life with a better understanding.

Channel your guilt into a worthwhile project. Volunteer somewhere just once. It will make you feel good about yourself.

Understand the difference between guilt and regret. Guilt is the normal response that we somehow failed in our duties and obligations. It creates feelings of shame, inadequacy, insecurity, unworthiness and self judgement. Regret is the feeling of sadness that results when things don't turn out the way we had hoped. Guilt makes us feel we are at fault and regret is a reflection that we are human. As humans we are limited in our capacities, there is only so much we can do and a lot of things are beyond our control or have consequences we can not foresee. We need to forgive ourselves for not knowing what we know now.

Write a letter from your husband to you. Write down the things you know he would say to you about your relationship, write down the painful things too. Would he forgive you for the things you didn't do? Would he forgive your shortcomings? Write down those words from him to you and read the letter back to yourself.(really helped me move on!)

Melina I think guilt is part of the grieving process. We need to get the guilty feelings out where we can examine them and deal with them in order to get over those feelings. You are on the right track. I don't think you are any more/less farther behind than I felt at two years! The whole process just plain sucks and wears you out.

Hang in there. cheryl

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Cheryl,

What an absolutely perfect and helpful response! This needs to be saved in a "guilt" section so all those that encounter the need for it can find it.

Your therapist is very thorough!

Thanks,

Kay

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I agree with you, Kay ~ Cheryl's response is wonderful. I hope that Melina and others reading this will find it helpful, too.

This thread has prompted me to begin putting together a list of suggested resources from my files, specifically focused on coping with guilt. (One example: Coping with Guilt, by Carol Staudacher.) Stay tuned.

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Marty, Thanks for posting the link to your article on guilt. As you can tell by my notes I copied a lot from that article and posted it on my bulletin board. After many, many months I still review it often! It made a big impact on my thought process.

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I want to hang on to this thread to aid me when the time comes that I lose my mom, I feel it will be very helpful to me at that time.

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I keep a list on my computer of happy memories and a friend gave me a lovely box which I keep on my cocktail table and it is filled with joyous pictures....so when I get bogged down on everything I did wrong or on the pain he was in (which happens less and less often now...thank goodness) I put energy into reading this list of happy memories and looking at happy pictures. It all helps and I put a lot of energy (sometimes it takes a ton of energy to make myself step out of that sad place) into doing these things to help counterbalance the sadness, emptiness and longing. I guess I am trying to balance it all...not deny my grief and not deny good feelings. I struggle with empty a lot yet. That is tough for me.

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Thanks so much for your thoughts - Mary, Marty, Cheryl and Kay - and for the poem, Cosel.

Cheryl - your last line...

"Melina I think guilt is part of the grieving process. We need to get the guilty feelings out where we can examine them and deal with them in order to get over those feelings. You are on the right track. I don't think you are any more/less farther behind than I felt at two years! The whole process just plain sucks and wears you out. Hang in there."

...probably helped me more than the suggestions. I suppose I tend to steer away from cookbook recipes for life changes, since we're all different and the complexity of some of our feelings/problems are always easily dealt with in any uniform way. I did kind of like the idea of writing a letter to my husband though. Still - the knowledge that you were also where I am now at 2 years is actually the most comforting. Maybe there's hope for me yet.

Melina

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Metteline, there IS HOPE for you. You are doing your best and if you look back you have done a LOT to deal with your grief, your gigantic loss- and not run from it only to have it surface down the road. I frankly do not know how people can run from it since it is so present and to me, inescapable especially in these early days/months/years.

Peace to your heart,

Mary

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Melina,

Without exception each time I have read your posts I am shocked at how much your thoughts have mirrored my own. Out of all the people posting here I often think that you are walking a similar road as me. I tend to only post when I get a handle on things and want to let others know not to give up. You seem able to use this board as a way to shed your grief and reach out for help. If I bear my soul prior to figuring somthing out I feel like a big fat failure. Which is ridiculous. Thankyou for being able to let us know what you are struggling with in the midst of the struggle. It really does help knowing others are going through somthing similar.

My husband died on August 25th, three years ago next saturday. I don't think anyone is in pain anymore but me. Even my kids seemed to have gotten over it. I am greatful that I have made a lot of headway but still feel shocked that this is my life. By the way my daughter is still at PLU and dating a nice Norweigen boy named Arvid. :) cheryl

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Cheryl,

I'm glad to hear that you recognize my struggles. You seem to be strong and doing well after three years. Unlike you, I tend to post when I'm really down and need help. I also feel like a failure at these times, yet still I feel the need for someone to listen to me and be there with me. It's such a lonely road and I don't really have anyone around that I can talk to. Sometimes it doesn't help, I'll feel misunderstood - but other times it can be just the thing to get me through a day or a weekend.

I've just returned from a long journey - driving my youngest back to college - an eight hour trip each way. I'm exhausted now and might even call in sick tomorrow. It's pretty lonely returning home to an empty house, but at least I have the dog.

Will be thinking about you when August 25th comes around. My husband also died in August, two years ago. I thought that my kids were more or less "over it", but talking with three of them over the summer, I realize that they really still miss their dad. But they're young, they've got their lives ahead of them, so they're looking toward the future to a greater degree than I am. I'm still wondering how to get through the next 10, 20, 30 or more years. And yes, it's still kind of a shock.

Melina

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Melina,

I hope you get the much needed rest today!

Yes, it's easier for the kids to be resilient, esp. since their lives are still ahead of them while the better part of ours is gone. Not saying we don't have anything good left, but we already had the highlights...

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