There are times when I feel my heart beginning to heal. I feel lighter and able to breathe a full breath. I can be smiling and even enjoying myself and then…. I check myself. Fear, shame, and guilt creep in. How can I be acting “normal?” How can I be having these good feelings when my heart is still breaking? How could I forget my loved one, erase them from my life so easily, even for a minute? My stomach clenches, panic sets in and the tears begin to flow. I feel myself sinking into my grief. I feel shame and guilt for not loving them enough, not showing the world how much I miss them through my actions, words, and emotions. I am torn between reaching for the light and being pulled back into the darkness.
As human beings, we can be many things too many people. We can have mixed emotions about any one given situation. We can experience a multitude of feelings throughout the day. So why would our grief experience be any different? Loving our children, does not mean we can’t be “mad as all get out” at them for ruining our flowerbed. Caring for our friend, does not mean we abandon them when they say something hurtful to us unintentionally. Being deeply in love with our spouse/partner, does not mean we’ll never want to “rip their heads off” for leaving their dirty clothes on the bathroom floor…again! People are more than one thing and have more than one feeling about most every situation encountered. We have thoughts and feelings that are complex and complicated. Grief is all of these things and more.
Can You Miss Your Loved One and Still Be Glad the Sun Came Out Today?
You may feel guilty for having a positive reaction to anything, because your loved one has died. Slowly there will come a time when you wonder if you deserve goodness. You can miss your loved one and at the same time be content and, maybe even, find happiness in your life.
It may help if you consider what your loved one would want for you. How would they wrap you in their love? Would they expect you to limit your happiness in reverence to them? What would you want for your loved one if roles were reversed? How would you advise a friend in this situation?
Emily Long, Licensed Professional Counselor, discusses the 4 Things You Need to Know about ‘Moving On’ from Grief ”. She shared “Moving on is more about learning to live what I call a both/and life rather than an either/or life. It’s not about grieving or forgetting, happy or sad, black or white. It’s shades of gray.”
Both/And: Enjoying your younger son’s soccer game AND still missing your deceased daughter playing volleyball.
Either/Or: You can go to your son’s soccer games to cheer him on OR miss the memories of going to your daughter’s volleyball games.
Somehow thinking of feelings, emotions and actions in this way may help you to see that it is healing and healthy to both enjoy the “present” and fondly remember the “past”. This does not mean there won’t be regret, a sense of loss and/or pangs of guilt. You may still need to talk yourself through difficult times and reassure yourself that it is okay to live in the present and cherish the past. The more you start thinking of “both/and” in your life, the more a part of your mindset it will become. You will gradually start to feel good things with less and less guilt.
“Recovery Guilt” is listed as one of the six types of guilt in the post, When Grief Causes Guilt – Second Firsts written by guest contributor Bryan C. Taylor. Taylor notes that recovery guilt “is the exact opposite of grief guilt. Instead of feeling shame for how poorly we’re handling our loss, we feel shame for how well we are handling it. We’re too happy too soon; we’re smiling too much and crying too little; we’re finding joy in things we shouldn’t.”
The Pressure to Grieve the “Right” Way
We not only put this pressure on ourselves. We are also pressured to fit societal, cultural and religious norms regarding ambiguous timelines, rules and “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s”. These expectations can be actual conversations others have had with us, past experiences, memories, and teachings or constructs of unknown origin. They can block our ability to move through the grieving journey in a way that doesn’t pile on additional guilt for “doing too well”, for “not being sad enough for long enough”, for “being happy in public”, for “going out in public” and on and on.
A family member shared this affirmation from a Health Journeys download “A Guided Meditation to Ease Grief” by Bellaruth Naparstek, “More and more, I can see releasing and letting go of this grief is neither abandonment nor betrayal. It is simply holding my love in a different way.”
It is okay to make your own rules regarding your well-being and happiness. Although it may be difficult, you are responsible only to yourself and your own healing process. Your rules can be flexible and allow for more than one feeling at any given time. Share the love you feel for your departed with yourself. Allow the love you shared with them to wash over you when you are feeling guilt. Trust you are doing the best you can in this moment. Your loved one will always be by your side as you heal, experience happiness, and allow nourishing goodness in your life.
Content for this article was found on unityhospice.org