The Fine Line Between Grief and Guilt

The Fine Line Between Grief and Guilt

It’s been a year . . . 365 days . . . a whole bunch of hours and thousands of minutes, since my mom died. In some ways, it’s gotten easier, moments in which the intensity of loss dissipates, like a drop of black ink in a bowl of water. But in other ways, it’s gotten harder. When I revisit the last few months of her life, I question the many decisions I made on her behalf, and the “what-if” scenarios play out in my mind. I don’t know why I do this, why I create such angst —  why I torment myself with what might have been.  

Six months ago, I wrote about how, as my family prepared for the memorial service, I felt nothing. I was numb — all I wanted to do was take care of business, do the things a daughter should do, and tend to my father. Without meaning to, I put my own grief on hold. My heart broke so slowly it almost didn’t happen. But then it did . . . 

I had a plant of my mom’s. It was ugly. One piece of it was a wispy fern and the other a more hearty-leafed thing. I liked the pot, so I kept it, planning to use it for something pretty. But the ugly plant of my mom’s was healthy, so I just left it alone. I did nothing to it – maybe a bit of water now and then. It thrived. Ugly as ever, it just kept living. Then one day, my dogs made a play-thing out of it. I found my mother’s plant ripped apart – the wispy fern shredded, the hearty leaves scattered across the grass. I stared at it for a moment or two, and my eyes filled with tears. The tears ran down my cheeks like streams of melting snow. The sob that came out of me scared the birds away, and my heart broke apart. I frantically gathered what was left of the plant and tried to find one root that could be salvaged. I yelled at my sweet dogs who had torn up the plant because I had left it where they could. It was all my fault. My fault the plant was dead. My fault my mother was gone.

I still feel guilt, although I know that’s the wrong emotion. I was a good daughter. My mom told me countless times how lucky she was to have me. But I cannot escape my misgivings, doubts, regrets. I could have done more, done better . . . been better.

Every night, before I fall asleep, I wish for a dream. In this dream my mother will appear and tell me I was worthy of the faith she had in me, that I never let her down, that she still feels blessed that I was her daughter.

My grief and guilt have blended, like two primary colors mixed on painter’s palette. They’ve become a new color, and it’s difficult to tell them apart.