On the outside, the world sees you hurting from the loss of your spouse. They don’t know; however, that in addition to the “normal” feelings of grief, you’re also struggling with guilt.
You blame yourself for not insisting that he see the doctor when his cough got progressively worse. You beat yourself up for not seeing beyond his reassurances that he was “okay”. Perhaps you had a fight before he stormed out of the house and you wished you’d chased after him. Or, if you’re like me, you carry the burden of not getting on an earlier flight.
Regardless of the circumstances, you continue to play the cruel game of “What if…” over and over in your head. You recreate every scenario, wondering how and what you could have done to prevent his death. You search your mind, wondering if you missed the signs: Did he seem depressed? Was there a lump that warned of cancer? Were the recent headaches a sign of what was to come?
I want you to know that there was nothing you did or did not do that could have prevented his death. Don’t allow guilt to complicate your grief. Know that he would never hold you accountable for his death. He knows that you would have moved heaven and Earth to have him here with you and his babies.
Perhaps it’s not his actual death that racks you with guilt. Maybe the fact that you’re happy again is a struggle for you. You don’t think you deserve the honey that has come after the bitterness of death. Or, you’ve become the woman you’ve always wanted to be – and you did so only as a result of his death.
A dear widow sister felt overwhelmed with her newfound happiness and wondered if her husband stood in judgment of her life. Through her soul-searching, she realized something profound that I now use to prevent myself from going down the road of guilt: If you believe your husband is in heaven, then you have to know there is no pain, no hurt and no negative emotions. He isn’t angry you didn’t get to the phone in time. He doesn’t blame you for that final argument. He isn’t harboring resentment that you’ve moved forward and/or started dating. If he is in heaven, then know he is at peace, looking down and marveling at the amazing, resilient person you’ve become post-loss.
If you don’t believe in heaven, then you should know the man you married would never say you were responsible for something that was beyond your control. He’s not judging you for moving from the home you shared, for indulging the children a bit more than he would have, or for agreeing to that first date with a potential new partner.
Just as you’ve forgiven the people who weren’t there for you or made peace with their absence, you must let go of the guilt you continue to carry. It makes your grief that much harder. Know you did everything within your means and with the tools you had at the time to save him. If his death was unexpected, you can’t blame yourself for your inability to predict the future. Yes, if you knew the drunk driver was leaving the bar, you would have chatted a bit more before he left for the night shift. Had you known he was so ill, you would have skipped work or canceled the trip. If you’d only realized the diagnosis was wrong, you would have demanded a third or fourth opinion. If you could have, you would have. The sad reality is that you just can’t change the past.
Unfortunately, the feelings of guilt may never truly go away. But, with time and a conscious effort, you’ll be able to talk yourself out of going down that never-ending path. Don’t feed your guilt. Don’t play the “what-if” game. What’s done is done and we can only move forward. None of us, knowing what we know now, would have taken so many days for granted…fought about so many insignificant things…been so quick to anger.
Nothing will ever give us that time back and every movement we spend searching the past for answers fills us with remorse and holds us hostage. Release the guilt. Release the anxiety. Release the feelings of inadequacy that you weren’t able to save him. Instead, be comforted by the fact that your husband knows if it was your love alone that could have saved him, he’d still be here with you.
– Except from “Letters to the Widowed Community“.