On death, guilt and making peace with your conscience

This is the first post I’ve written for a while, and the first since I’ve shifted the emphasis more explicitly to ageing and retirement.

Back in the Autumn I wrote about how ageing brings with it the inevitability of loss (beyondcareerwoman.com/ageing: being bold and brilliant in our autumn years/).  This was brought home to me again very starkly over the Christmas holiday, echoing what had happened just one year earlier.

Christmas was always my favourite time of year.  It imparted a warm glow to December that differentiated it completely from the dreary wastes of January and February.

Then on Christmas Eve 2016 came the phone call I’d dreaded.  My father didn’t have long to live.

My partner and I were at the other end of the country and drove through the dark on almost deserted roads to be with him at the end.

The call to say we were too late came just before midnight.

This year we got to spend Christmas with my sister-in-law and her family.  I shed tears for my father, but drew comfort from the love and laughter surrounding me.

It was a stark contrast to our desolate Christmas Day of the year before.

Not wanting to ruin my family’s day with news of death, we numbly endured the day, surrounded by the unwanted trappings of  Christmas – cheerful cards and decorations, other people’s happiness. We shared the sad news on Boxing Day.

This year we spent New Year’s Eve with my brother-in-law’s family, looking forward to what 2018 had in store.

After seeing in the new year I went up to bed feeling tired and happy.  Then I found the email asking me to call the care home where my mother had been staying over the holiday.

Assuming she’d had a fall, I called with only slight trepidation.

I was stunned to be told she’d passed away.  The phone was handed to a policeman who tried to explain things about her death and its consequences that I didn’t take in and couldn’t respond to.

My father’s slow decline had allowed me time to start to prepare for the sad inevitability of losing him – albeit nothing ever prepares you for the heartache and up-welling of grief. For him, though, it was a merciful release, which was and is a comfort to me.

My mother’s death, on the other hand, was sudden, unexpected and shocking.

I had a good relationship with my father, much less so with my mother.  So one part of my complex emotional reaction to my mother’s death is the feeling of being deprived of the opportunity to try to repair things, to be kinder to her.

If only I’d known she would be gone so suddenly (I was always convinced she would outlive me) I could have behaved differently – better.

So yes, another part of the reaction is guilt that I didn’t do those things anyway.

I am so grateful to friends and family who know I will be feeling this way.  They remind me of the many things I did for my mother, that I did try to make her life happier.

But still the guilt remains.

I’ve come to understand over the past three weeks that I’m not alone in this muddied response to the death of a parent.

For most people there is a measure of guilt.  The realisation that nothing can be done to change things is difficult to come to terms with.

I can’t change the past.  And my mother is gone so there is no longer anything I can do to make the relationship better.

I have to find a way to make peace with my conscience.  

 

 

 

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