Grief or Guilt?

By now, if you join me regularly, you’ll have figured out that my blog is less a sales pitch or useful social/intelligent commentary and more a daily journal…

I’ve known for a long time that I fall far on the right side of the Internal vs. External Processing pendulum.

I ponder, I analyze, I think for days on end.   But in the final analysis, to really keep sane, I have to work through things ‘out there’…

Meaning, I talk and write.

Since allegations of “Chatty-Kathy” have followed me for years, I’ve turned more to writing.   For one thing, my jaw finally got tired.   For another, I’m very sensitive to criticism (constructive or not) right now.   It’s hard to tune me out when I’m talking.   But hey, you chose to come here and read.  And you can criticize all you want in the privacy of your own home, where I can’t hear you…

Writing in my personal journal does not do the trick.   I can only see all the different perspectives of something if there is a believed-to-exist external audience.  (Hence, talking to folks with eyes glued to the TV does not result in completion for me either…)

So this morning’s topic is in regards to the various diagnosis regarding the persisting physical pain since my bout with pneumonia last year.

Western medicine dismisses current pain and past illness being related at all.   Narcotics and suggestions of therapy for depression are the recommended treatment.

Holistic medicine has danced around, “inflammation, stored toxins, stress, depression and guilt.”

Laymen diagnosis is, “Don’t care what it is, get it fixed and fast – can’t stand seeing much more of this.”

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My recent sojourn to a new practitioner who doesn’t know the story of my life for the past few years, resulted in a re-telling of the death of my oldest son from bacterial meningitis.

New doc asks, “Do you feel guilty?”

Are you kidding?   Of course I do.   I’m a Mom.  My job is to protect and nurture those given to my care.   One is dead.   Obviously, I failed in my mission.   How can you even ask such a stupid question?

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There has been a lot of similar advice tossed my way for quite a few months now.   Quite frankly, if I hear the words “co-dependent”, “guilt” or “depression” one more time, I’m going to make those who go postal look like amateurs.

For the record – I finally looked up the definition of ‘co-dependent’.  The allegations that I am are not true.

I really would like folks around me to quit having traumas, illnesses and such, so I could selfishly think about me and my healing, without feeling selfish.   But I’m still an empathetic person – If someone is struggling and I think I can be of help, I feel guilty if I don’t offer…

On the other hand, I’m famous for wrecking my own health in order to care for or provide for others.   It’s not on purpose.   I figure staying up all night in a hospital or working 120 hours a week is only a short term endeavor – I don’t ever plan for that to become my life….

(yes, I’m aware there are careers where I can work a 12-hour graveyard shift at a hospital and get paid for my time… I have a unique talent – people feel safe dying around me.   Since I tend to get attached and don’t want to inadvertently place my talent around those not sure about taking the journey just yet, those careers don’t really seem viable options…)

Guilt – This is sort of a no-brainer – I’m very much a product of my own environment.  Please combine the following belief systems and see what you come up with:

  • God helps those who help themselves
  • Love your neighbor as you love yourself (in other words, what would I give myself if I was in their shoes?)
  • You create your reality

My result when faithfully following the above recipe is: “How could I abandon one who is hurting right now?” “How could I possibly have done this to myself?  And why would I?”   and finally, “I have no one to blame but myself”.

My definition of guilt is as follows:

The emotional response to behavior that is either internally recognized or externally labeled as detrimental to others.

Depression – I’m not depressed.  There are plenty of things I’m interested in.  They just aren’t the same things as Before I Lost Two Whom I Loved Best.

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Still, part of the Rx script sent home with me was to, “Cut yourself some slack.  Get rid of the guilt and shame.  Quit arguing with who you are and just be.”

The last one cracked me up.  I AM being who I am.  Right now, that means I’m still ‘what iffing’ myself to death, and in general, a crusty, grumpy, cynical ole fart.   I totally accept that is who I am right now.   Why else do you think I shared it with you?

On the other hand, I apparently am ready to BE something else, hence I’m here….some help please? (Ya know, I really am very lucky anyone even ventures to take me on as a patient… Count your blessings, they say.)

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I’m well aware of the school of thought that says, “Each moment you make a choice of who you are.”

I’m also well aware of my life long story of, “I don’t want to be a person who leaves a path of destruction five miles wide behind me.”

Guilt, regret and shame are useful to keep you on the straight and narrow.   At least that’s the story planted in my brain.

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Not too long after Morgan died I had my little fit of hysteria.   I was at the local newspaper to submit and pay for the required Thank You note.

(Which also meant adjusting our annual budget, as I cannot say anything in 50 words or less (without cursing) and as a personal household, we are not allowed to run a trillion dollar deficit….)

I also picked up last week’s copy to re-read the obituary I had penned while running on no sleep and loads of coffee.   Too late to edit, but wanted to see if perhaps, after not seeing it for a week, I was still satisfied with it.  (I say I just write and don’t edit much – – I’ve been known to tell untruths occasionally…)

I discover the obituary did not run in last week’s issue.   How on earth can I submit a Thank You note if the obit hasn’t run?   Extreme panic, anger, stress – – fill in any other negative emotions you wish – – The carefully placed lid I had put on my emotions was working up to a blow similar to Pompeii…

The newspaper folks were very understanding of my incoherent ramblings.  Not to worry, could I just tell them the name of the funeral home?  They will take care of everything, don’t you worry.   Oh, no charge for your Thank You, we’re happy to be of service.   (there’s a thousand bucks out the window.  Who talks this much to say thank you?) No, no, it’s okay that you’re crying and unable to string two words together…we understand….we know how to look up phone numbers….there, there, (please, you’re scaring the other customers….)

Now, for better or worse, my chiropractor’s office is within blind stumbling distance of the newspaper office.   I weaved my way there, burst through the door and completely wrecked the quiet, healing atmosphere of the place.  (remember the ‘path of destruction’ phrase?   see now, why I have valid concerns?)

Bless their hearts.   For some reason known only to the Universe, there was not a queue of patients with appointments in the office that precise moment.  I vaguely remember being gently led back to the treatment room.

Extreme Caution Note* For those of you who have lost loved ones to the violent or reckless behavior of others, please do not read the following.   It is part of my analysis of my own healing, but will cause you pain.  Please trust me and just skip to the next section  Look for the Blue All Clear signal.

(Extra warning and space to give you time to look for blue…)

“I just want someone to be angry at and there isn’t anyone…” I hiccuup and wail through my tears.  “Other people have stupid drunks or drug dealers or murderers to vent their anger on.   I don’t have that.”

All Clear – you may continue reading….

“I want someone to blame.   I want to know why.   Barring that, I’ll even take a cat to kick.”  (not really, I can’t bear to see animals hurt… but I was reckless that day…)

Twenty minutes of soothing treatment and soft-spoken words later, I am fit for decent society again.

But somewhere along the line, I had identified a safe target for my anger.

Me.

**********

Now any fool can tell you that anger turned inward is one of the most destructive things possible.  Simply because, there is only so much space  ‘inward’ and sooner or later, it will overflow into ‘outward’.

And as intolerant as I am of fools, I plowed right ahead anyways.   10 months later, I confide in another that they can just forget trying to talk me out of my own guilt –  I will never, you hear me? Never!  forgive myself for failing in my duty.

**********

Now, anyone with any experience of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that was not a train will tell you, Forgiveness is not for the one forgiven – it’s for the peace and well-being of the person who forgives.

On the other hand, when it’s yourself you forgive, then both parties (you and you) receive the blessing.

I had a long talk recently with a family member regarding forgiveness.   We discussed about how some view forgiveness as a “Free Pass to keep doing what you already did” and they are not willing to hand out Free Passes to those who are engaging in behavior they deem detrimental to others.

I can’t speak very knowledgeably about whether that’s true or not.   Heck, according to professionals, I have huge problems with setting boundaries.  I’ve also read  No Boundary by Ken Wilbur – it’s no wonder I argue with myself all the time.

**********

I also had early training in the concept, “If one person tells you something, it may be true or not.  At 2, still question.  But if everyone around you is pointing out the same thing, then it’s time to take it seriously.”

So this morning, unable to sleep, I’ve thought about guilt and forgiveness.

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On the one hand, I proclaim my belief in an Intelligent Universe, Omnipotent Higher Power and the Heroic Mission of the Soul.

Which means that to blame myself for Morgan’s death is in direct contradiction of my belief system.  (arguing with yourself is also known as “stress and dis-ease”)

On the flip side, if I just skip along, with a “Not my problem, it’s not my job to interfere with another soul’s journey” (aka I’m Not Responsible for the Choices/Actions of Others) la-de-dah Enlightened attitude, I don’t feel comfortable.  “Passing the buck and not taking responsibility” are the frequent internal commentaries made on this course of action.

**********

I could try the path of “don’t think about it” I’ve observed followed by some around me.

Not a good fit with Who I Am.   Believe me, I’ve tried over the years.   I often PRAY for a blank look and when asked, “What are you thinking” answering “Nothing” in all truthfulness.

Haven’t accomplished it yet and probably never will….

On the bright side, I don’t get asked what I’m thinking very often – the wise know they better be ready for a 30 minute discourse if they ask – therefore, no one cares what I’m thinking.  Makes isolating yourself from the world much easier.

**********

If you ever want to be held accountable for your beliefs and reminded whenever your actions fail to conform to what you say is true, just share your beliefs with your children.   Best accountability program in existence.

Morgan and I had several round-table discussions regarding the fine line between allowing others to take responsibility for their own reactions to you and behavior I considered blatant mistreatment of others.

“Do what you will, Harm None.” – But there are those walking around just waiting for the opportunity to be offended or hurt.   Yes.  I know.   I have now passed my insanity on.

**********

Not really.   He wasn’t insane.  He navigated the multiple worlds and belief systems he was exposed to very well, actually.   Better than I have.   Apparently, the sins of the mother are not always passed to the next generation.

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Although I spent a good deal of energy after his departure doing my best to make sure really great silver linings were noticed, appreciated or created out of this whole big, dark cloud (a memorial scholarship, repair of needed relationships and relinquishment of others, really good bonding with and daily appreciation of the son I have left, etc.) in the background, I have been quietly contemplating my own guilt in the whole affair, the unfairness of it all and how there is no possible way any plane of existence could need his presence more than than the one I currently occupy.

I’ve gotten very good at arguing with Morgan, the Universe, myself.  My thoughts and actions are not in tandem.   This is also referred to as ‘incongruity’ or ‘disconnectedness’ by the holistic world.

**********

Want to hear a good one?   Earlier this year, I embarked in a partnership with another to make a video series about how the stories you tell become the life you live.   My gift to the world.   One of the beautiful creations that came about solely because of the depth and growth of my soul through experiencing pain and loss.  Or so it was touted.

In a very early session, there I was, hair fixed, make-up applied, talking to camera, saying, “Anytime you are arguing with yourself, you’re going to have problems.”

Needless to say, that project got cut short.  How on earth can I tell others ‘how-to’ when I haven’t even figured it out myself?  Oh, I know there are those who make a very good living doing just that, but the secret  is they are oblivious to the fact they haven’t really figured out the end-all “How-To” – ergo, no internal conflict.

I echo Doc Holiday’s (played by Val Kilmer) sentiments, “My hypocrisy only goes so far.”

**********

In the end, I realize that in order to heal, go forth and have a fruitful life, I’ll have to forgive and forget.

To date, of all the coping mechanisms available, the one that has worked best is, “Every morning when I wake up, I live in the NOW.  I have no past and no future.  I observe and appreciate only what is right in front of me.   I do only what is right in front of me to do.”

This path is Great for inner-peace, comfort and calm.

It really sucks for functioning in the real world, unless you never make dates with friends and only work for people who don’t care when you show up, how long you work, or when you depart.

Living in the Now experiment made my already screwed up time-awareness vanish completely.

Fortunately, the sun and moon still help to remind me whether to return that voice mail call now, or wait awhile, in consideration of others’ sleep schedules. (consideration is, I’ve learned, a symptom of being co-dependent….)

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Another helpful course of action is believing that Morgan was really a super-duper-triple-under-cover agent saving the world and this whole fiasco was part of the undercover “cover”.    Hard to keep that one up, because in order to have shared reality, someone must share it and I haven’t had any takers yet.  Plus, it gets confusing using the word cover that often…

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Door number three for coping is from Roadhouse.  You remember that one?   Sam Elliot and Patrick Swayze.   Scene where Oh Wise and Revered Elder is assisting Young and Foolish One:

“Ya gotta cut it the fuck loose”

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If you’ve survived the world of multiple perspectives and read this far, I guess you know I’m tired of the ill health that is, supposedly, a result of guilt and grief.   So this whole morning’s exercise has been in trying to resolve my disagreements with myself, via talking with myself while pretending to talk to you. (you haven’t forgotten that whole “We Are All One” concept, have you?)

If you’re grieving yourself and in the same predicament, then this morning’s exercise was my feeble attempt to let you know, you’re not alone.

And yes, I believe, somehow, some way we will make it through.

One day, one thought, one agreement or contradiction,  one tear or laugh –  at a time.

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