I’m honored to be bringing my friend Jennifer, who lost her father this year, back to the Postcard from Grief series. Her sentiments on guilt, anger, and wondering if you’re “doing grief right” really resonate with me. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds that yoga can inspire sobbing. There are more Postcards from Grief if you’d like to read them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
As Ellen reminded us recently, loss is big and it happens to everyone. There is no way to stop it. Grief will come to all of us.
For some of us, guilt is almost as inevitable as grief in our lives. In some cases (for example, ahem, with me) guilt can be all-consuming – a driving, motivating force that gets us out of bed in the morning and can keep us awake at night. And, so, inevitably I feel guilty about how I grieve. Do I cry enough? Should I really feel this happy, right in this moment? Do people think I’m callous? Am I doing this right???
My therapist tells me, again and again, there is no ‘doing this right’ when it comes to grief. For some people it sits like a dull pain, ever-present. For others the intensity is fierce early on and eventually – if slowly – fades away. For others (and I sit myself squarely in this camp), it comes in sudden, shocking waves. It knocks me off my feet. One minute, I’m revising a paper at work. The next, I’ve fallen to the floor, a crumpled, inconsolable mess. And don’t even get me started with yoga. Child’s pose? Half pigeon? It takes but a minute of breathing and I’m a heap on the floor again (the ridiculous drama of it all is not lost on me, even in the moment).
Often I will sit back and reflect on these moments of grief after they have passed. The social scientist in me wants to analyze them from a (don’t shudder) rational perspective and get a handle on what causes each moment so that I can better work through it the next time one comes. And what I find is that guilt is strongly interwoven with my grief. These almost vomitous-like moments of sadness surge within me precisely because I feel – on most days – that I have a grip on reality. That I am handling my sadness. That my dad is no long suffering and therefore is much better off now, even if the rest of us are not. And, periodically, this “handling it” makes me feel incredibly, inconsolably … guilty.
And it really pisses me off! Guilt has no business interrupting my grieving process. Let it drive me to be more productive at work. That’s fine if it pushes me, kicking and screaming, all the way to the gym. But I don’t want it affecting my postmortem relationship with my dad. I want my sadness to be as clean and pure as possible, untinged by right versus wrong or “I should.” I want to grieve my father’s death, however that grief manifests itself. And I want to be okay with that manifestation.
I am working very hard on pushing guilt out of my life, in all of its forms. Frankly, I don’t even want it as a part of my workout routine. The thing is, guilt stops us from feeling the emotions that we will inevitably feel; it keeps us from wholly embracing the mood we may find ourselves in. In short, it keeps us from fully living life. And in feeling guilt, I am not only doing a disservice to myself. I am also doing a disservice to my beloved dad and his memory. He deserves my grief. Not my guilt.