Life Lessons

Giving Up The Guilt

I was prepared to take care of her for as long as she needed me. In whatever capacity or form I would do all I could to provide. Up until that point she was the center of my life, the part of which I often made adjustments for. And it was not obligatory, she never made me feel guilty for wanting to spend my time with friends or pursue my goals, she valued my life. And truly, I loved to spend time with her.

My mom, Terri.

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But sometimes it was frustrating to be asked to help and accommodate her compulsive habits, it was exhausting to care for her and so painful to witness her suffer. And then try to allow the expression of frustration, when all I could do was castigate myself. How could I complain? How could I even claim to know pain compared to what she's going through?

I hated myself for my "weakness". 

I never got to care for her outside of the hospital. She didn't recover from the cancer that spread into her brain. After she died, everything was strange. Routines slowly returned but shadowed by the most unpredictable grief, all desire for normalcy and familiarity, felt utterly impossible.

Slowly though, new opportunities arose. Opportunities to move out of the family home, start a new job, travel overseas, elements of independence that I longed for. I realized if Mom had survived in the condition she was in at the hospital I would likely have none of these things. 

And here the guilt sets in.

It seemed as though my life opened up when she died. I no longer have the responsibility of taking care of her. I no longer have to cancel plans because she is sick and needs me to watch out for her. In a way, I became free to live my own life.

It's been 3 years and I'm still deep in it. Deep in the feeling of guilt, that I know she would not want me to feel, but I can't help. My heart aches for the life she should have had and the life I get to live now. It taps my shoulder on many occasions to remind me. It's like my gratitude is tainted - no amount of gratitude could outweigh the guilt burrowed within me. 

Again, I know she would not want me to be burdened. Her only wish would be for my happiness. I just can't let it go.

But I must, I must.

I must. And here is how I'm trying to.

 

I am relinquishing the false shame of my happiness

I feel I committed an irrational iniquity by feeling happy today. When I feel joy, a darker feeling creeps in that tells me I have no reason to feel joyful, with all she suffered and the life
taken from her. I should live my life in morose, because that's what I deserve. But that is not truth, that is a lie.

She would never want me to feel shame or guilt for being happy without her. It is not because of her absence that I feel joy, it is a result of the life she helped me create that I feel joy. The relationships I have with family and friends, my education, my home, my car, my work ethic, and my strength, it all came from her.

And I can take ownership over the decisions I've made and call them my own, which leads me to the next hurdle. 

 

i am relinquishing the false shame of wanting to be different than her

This one is really hard to talk about. My mom was an amazing woman, but her struggles were great. Self demonizing and painful, she did not love herself. At least she didn't openly express self love in front of me. More often than not I was witness to the anger she pummeled against herself. She called herself an idiot, she called herself ugly, said she wished she looked like me, and never accepted the many compliments expressed to her. I'd hear her cry in the shower, the expletives falling from her lips. She whispered them, but I heard them perfectly through the door. I heard them perfectly because with every fiber of my being I wanted to hear her whisper something else. I wanted to hear that she loved herself. But I could not convince her of her worth, even though I knew I was right.

I've discovered you cannot convince someone of something they choose not to believe. You might be able to comfort them, but only by their conscious choice will they be fully free of that lie. 

So in this respect I want to be nothing like her. And when I say that, when I type that, I feel a terrible guilt. It's as though I am insulting her by saying I don't want to be like her. Maybe because it sounds like a holistic remark. To be nothing like her sounds permanent, a final act of complete separation from the mother I loved and in more ways, want to emulate.

So that is exactly what I have to remember.

There is so much of her character that I want to emulate. Her kindness, generosity, service, patience, humor, empathy, the list is so long. That is powerful, but sadly what is also powerful, in the most debilitating way, is seeking to emulate those things but having no self regard in reaching them. How can I be generous when I am depleted of all love within myself? How can I seek to comfort someone when I think I am unworthy of empathy for myself? So, when I say I do not want to be like her, I have to remind myself of the one thing that falls under that statement.

I want to have nothing like my Mom's self-deprecation.

And if I don't claim that change for myself? I will repeat her mistaken rhetoric.

That treatment ends by my choice. If I ever have a child, I want them to know from their very subconscious, they are worthy and amazing. I will do my best to live by example of that without shame.

 

i am letting go of the assumptions

The assumptions includes the if-onlys and the should, would, and could haves. They are the imagery we form in our mind of the lifestyle of a future based on an alternate circumstances in the past.

I assume she'd be hurt by how I moved away from our home, hurt by the days when I don't think of her, or when I complain about details of my life that I'm unhappy with.

I assume had she lived, all of a sudden opportunities would have ceased.

But the truth is, though I cannot speak for her as well as she because she was her own person, I lived with the expression of her love and support constantly. So, to create these realities in my head solely from my pain is a deceipt I don't need to live by.  

The definition of assumption is "to take for granted or without proof". 

There is no evidence to support these thoughts, her character as it was, would not have been hurt as I imagine. Opportunities would not have ceased, the strength she and I both possessed was immense, our external circumstances would not have stopped us from living. I have been too lost in the past, I have sought reason from the pain and all of the negative associations. And somehow I still think if I find reason then I will find peace. But to search the past for reason, reliving every painful detail for understanding, all that comes from it are assumptions and doubt.

I will find peace when I relinquish the if-onlys and the should, would, and could haves. 

I will find peace when I focus on the present, not harbor on the pain of the those days. 

 

I am (re)proclaiming the truth of my beliefs

Earlier I said I ache for the life she should have had. She was such a tremendous, loving, and selfless woman, right to the end. I remember she would apologize to the medical staff when she had trouble moving because she felt she was being an inconvenience. I heard her whisper "thank you Jesus" amidst her clear discomfort and pain. She was imperfectly perfect. 

So I've been angry with God. Angry that in spite of all her good, she should have suffered continually and died from it. Not that her life is of any more value than others, but I can't help but feel such a lack of justification. 

Here is the truth I believe (and must remind myself a lot).

She is in the ultimate place of joy and well-being. She is no longer suffering, her body is free of all disease and free of the weight of her emotional scars. She is with her parents, whom she had to live without. She lost her Mom when she was entering college and her Dad when she was in her 40s. There is no resentment and no regret there. So I know that she is still in my life and all of those she loved and witnessing it all with happiness and pride. 

So, when I think of the life "taken from her", I realize nothing was taken from her, something great was given to her. The ultimate freedom to live with her Savior whom she loved and now exists, eternally, in peace. She deserved that and I believe that is what she has now.

And I will see her again. Whatever form we are in heaven, I believe we will be reunited.  I must believe it.

 

i am living in the present and in honor of her good

Right now is the most precious time. It is the only time I have control over and by choosing to live my best in the moment, living with a mindset that trusts I will flourish instead of suffer, I can be like my Mom. To hold onto the past as some definition of my character now, pulls me away from the gratitude of the present. 

Further, any and all prosperity I achieve in this life, I want to be returned ten fold to the people who helped me get there. I strive to do that now. I have so much to be thankful for and so much of it I credit to her. If I were to give up, let the guilt weigh me down so much that I resolve I'm unworthy and therefore no longer live life to the fullest, I'd be doing a great disservice to her memory. She didn't raise me to give up. 

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Maybe her death was the open door to the transition I needed. I have a hard time accepting it was the only way, but maybe God had a plan for us both. I will not begin to assume. I will only trust that where I am at is exactly where I need to be. That where she is at is exactly where she needs to be. The aspirations I heed deep within me are exactly what I am meant to seek. That her heart of service and compassion that she wanted to seek now has no limits.

She is living the most fulfilled life and I am on a journey to live my most fulfilled life here and now. 

I must give up this guilt.

I will never stop trying to.

 

Warm wishes,

Kels