Getting Stuck is Easy
Grief comes in all forms. It is a healthy emotional reaction to loss. It helps us process what just happened, cope with the life-altering event, and get on with living in our new reality.
But what if we don’t move forward? What if we get “stuck” going over and over the events leading up to a loved one’s passing? Even worse than that, what if our grief morphs into guilt over things done, or left undone in the relationship with the recently deceased?
Life is difficult enough living in the present, moving forward one day at a time. Constantly rehashing the past is infinitely more difficult. Second guessing ourselves about what we may or may not have done in the past is only useful if we can glean a life lesson, and improve ourselves going forward. Sadly we can’t rewrite history. And more importantly, we should not use what we know today (in the present) to judge ourselves for what we did in the past. Let me give you an example.
My Late Husband
It has been over 10 years since my husband died suddenly (although it was not entirely unexpected) of a massive heart attack. I got up one morning, went to work, and that afternoon he was gone. Just like that.
Since then, I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate about everything I did (and didn’t do) in the time leading up to his passing. Contrary to what many people say about a loved one passing away suddenly, wondering if I said “I love you” enough is not one of the things I worry about. He knew I loved him. I knew he loved me. I am blessed that this was not an issue for us.
What, then, do I contemplate in the wee hours of the morning when I can’t get back to sleep (usually after a disturbing dream where he is once again alive and talking with me)? I tend to think about the practical matters. What else could I have done to safeguard his health? Could I have cooked better meals, encouraged him to be more active, or insisted that he give up tobacco? What else could I have done to mitigate his stress levels? Would it have made a difference? Should I have tried harder than I did (because trust me, I tried each and every day to nudge him towards healthier habits)?
The worst are thoughts about what I would have done differently, “if only” I had known more about this or that. If only I had known more about his condition. If only I had known how close he was to death. If only . . . and on and on and on. I can beat myself up for hours and hours thinking along these lines.
Then one day I turned a page. I had enough of beating myself up. I replaced my “if only” thinking, with “I did the best I could, knowing what I did at the time.” That last part, “at the time,” is the critical piece. It has restored my sanity, and kept me from second-guessing myself endlessly, and pointlessly.
That's not to say that I don't still have these thoughts. I just remind myself, as quickly as I realize what I'm doing, that rehashing is pointless. And the more often I do this, the easier it is to remember.
At the Time
Have you recently lost a loved one, and find yourself agonizing about what you “might have” done differently? Are you thinking “if only” you had been more loving, asked more questions, or acted differently, your loved one might still be alive? Do you stay awake nights, playing the last few days and weeks before their death over and over in your mind, looking for ways to beat yourself up for your supposed short-comings?
However difficult it may be, you need to try not to judge yourself for the past based on the knowledge you have today. If you’re reading this far, my guess is that you did the very best you could, with the knowledge you had at the time. If I can help just one person with this thought, it was worth writing this.
Wishing all of you health, happiness, safety, security, and opportunities for love in your future.
Have you ever second-guessed yourself about your role in a loved one's passing?
© 2018 Carolyn Fields