I expected to feel overwhelming grief when my mother died. Instead, while I was very sad – my strongest emotion at the time was relief. And guilt for feeling relieved.
It’s been over three years and I have come to realize many things. Everyone grieves in their own way – no one should ever judge how another grieves. I also realized that I began grieving the loss of my mother about three years before she actually died. I lost the lovely women who could carry on brilliant conversations and offer sage advice. I lost a traveling companion and co-conspirator on shoe shopping trips. My children lost their playful and enthusiastic Nana. She went from being my mother to being my patient.
At the time of my mother’s death I had been her primary caregiver for three years in my home. Hospice came to my rescue and made the final seven months of Mom’s life – a time of peace, comfort and wonderful care. Intellectually I knew I had done everything I could to care for my mother in the best way that I could. But when she died I was happy that she was at peace and I felt so very guilty for thinking that now I could do things that I hadn’t done in a very long time. Like sleep through the night.
So many caregivers have shared with me this feeling and have been ashamed to even say the word – “relieved”. It is never meant in a disrespectful way and I think we need to be gentler with ourselves and give ourselves permission to be human, to be authentic. The face of grief is as individual as each person. If your bags are packed for a guilt trip, give yourself a break. If you are doing the best you can at this moment you have nothing to feel guilty about. This is one trip you really don’t need to take.