My friend, Jenny, is a single mom with two kids. With no college diploma, she couldn’t find a decent, good-paying job in the Philippines so she was forced to leave her children to her mother to work odd jobs in Hongkong.
Just last week, she had to return home because her estranged father suffered and died of a stroke. It was a difficult time for Jenny. She and her father were not able to talk – really talk – about the past. They were not given the chance to ask for and grant the other forgiveness. And just like any child raised by a single mom, Jenny is hungry for a father’s embrace, her heart is yearning for a father’s love, and her weary soul is longing for the tender and reassuring words that only a father can provide.
Now, she is deprived of all that. Permanently.
But despite her father’s unexpected passing (not to mention the financial burden that it entailed), Jenny remained strong. She had to. Her mother, her kids, her sister, and her nieces and nephews had only her to depend on. So, just like what she has been doing all her life, she had to sweep her emotional needs under the rug for her family’s more pressing needs.
But that same rug was pulled from under her when, within a few days into her father’s wake, her mother met the same fate as Jenny’s father did.
In just a span of two weeks, Jenny lost both her parents.
The second loss was much more painful for her. She might be the breadwinner, but her mother was her anchor…her rock…her home. Her mother was her moral compass and her conscience. She was the concerned whisper on troubled nights, the encouraging cheer during a fall, the tender reminder in moments of carelessness, and the guiding light amid chaos. And just like with Jenny’s father, a lot of things were left unsaid between her and her mother, a lot of issues left unresolved, and a lot of emotions left unexpressed.
To many of us who have experienced death of a loved one, regret and guilt have become our constant, persistent and, oftentimes, unwelcome companions. Too late, we come to realize that life could be fleeting. Life could be fragile. Life could be precarious.
One moment, our loved ones are just there — comfortably sitting on the sidelines, patiently waiting to be needed, and, with their mere presence, silently providing a sense of security and a blanket of warmth around us.
And then, as sudden as a meteor’s flight on a starless night, Death comes.
Clothed in a black, hooded cloak and carrying a massive scythe, he walks in — confidently, menacingly, grimly – and, with his Death Touch, he takes our loved ones away. There’s no pleading nor reasoning nor bargaining with the Grim Reaper. He is ruthless, merciless and remorseless. He takes whomever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants.
And we, the poor souls left behind, will forever carry the heavy burden of the many Ifs and I should haves in our hearts.
If I only knew that she’d be gone so soon…..
I should have spent more time with him…..
I should have been more caring, more attentive, more loving…..
I should have seen the warning signs…..
I should have said sorry…..
I should have given her a kiss and a hug…..
I should have returned his call…..
I should have come with her…..
I should have brought him with me…..
I should have whispered I love you when she left for work…..
I should have visited them more often…..
I should have told him how proud I was of him…..
Guilt is a powerfully cunning emotion. It hovers silently, waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack. And when all our emotional guards are down and we are at our most gullible, it swiftly creeps in. It thrives when we are stressed, exhausted and depressed. Finally, it takes over our lives until we are no longer in control.
To save ourselves from a lifetime of carrying this paralyzing emotion around, here are ways to better cope with guilt.
- Understand that guilt is a normal, if not essential, part of healing and recovery. There are seven stages or manifestations of grief – Shock or Disbelief, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Depressions, and Acceptance and Hope – that one experiences after the loss of a loved one. Read http://www.stages-of-grief-recovery.com/7-stages-of-grief.html for more information.
- Spend time in counselling, therapy and/or support groups if the guilt proves to be too much to bear.
- Open up to someone you trust. Bottling up all that negative emotion could be detrimental to your health.
- Dwell only on the happy memories you shared with your departed loved ones. Recollection of negative thoughts could trigger greater pain and overwhelming guilt.
- Find an outlet for your negative energy. You could start keeping a journal, writing songs or poems, painting, etc. to help you release the guilt.
- Pay his/her grave a visit as much as you need. Talking to and candidly telling him/her all the things you were not able to say when he/she was still around could help you move on from the grip of pain and guilt.
- Engage in an activity that will honor him/her and his memory. You may want to lend support to a campaign or crusade that he/she used to champion. Doing so may alleviate your guilt.
- If you believe in God or a higher power, pray for guidance and intervention in your battle with pain and guilt.
Finally, it is best to bear in mind that death is an inevitable consequence of living. It is everyone’s final destination. Similarly, time is ticking; it continues to do so, its hands ever moving forward. It doesn’t pause nor stop. We cannot turn back time to do things differently in the hope of arriving at a different outcome.
So, let us not squander time. Let us use every minute of our short life doing all the things worth doing — spreading goodness and positivity, expressing our love to family and friends, and appreciating every little thing that we enjoy. That is the only way to avoid guilt when the Grim Reaper comes to collect any one of us.