Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dealing with the Guilt

Guilt. Husband guilt, father guilt, survivor’s guilt, caregiver guilt, it’s pervasive, if not ruling. It’s always there. Guilt too often drives behavior, thoughts, and feelings, its real, its palpable; it’s a part my being with Marty. It’s a part of who I am that I must confront and it can be a part of what I do to others from time to time. After all what are parents if not purveyors of a little bit of guilt.

I know her strokes were not my fault, I know the trauma was beyond my control. It’s incredibly narcissistic and grandiose to think I could have prevented Marty’s strokes, to think if I had somehow made her quit smoking, if I had been more present, been a better husband she somehow would not have gotten sick. It makes no sense to any rational sentient person that I somehow feel guilty about her strokes, but sometimes I do feel that guilt, that ugly emotion, which clearly brings into question my rationalness and sentience.

The first couple of years after Marty had the strokes I felt guilt for almost everything. That little nagging inner voice kept haranguing me with I wasn’t doing a good enough job in caring for her to avert the second stroke, I wasn’t aware enough of illness signs or hygiene processes to catch or prevent the latest life threatening infection, or I wasn’t being attentive enough.

It’s weird to feel guilty for smiling or feeling joy but I did. It’s just plain crazy to feel psychic pain for enjoying a round of golf or a trip to see your children, but for a while every time I smiled; every time I enjoyed myself I felt it tinged with this sense of remorse and guilt. How could I feel anything but grief, sadness and remorse when Marty was lying in bed, broken by strokes?

It happens most often when I am somewhere or doing something I know Marty would have enjoyed. It hits the hardest when I am living our life with our children without her. The day our grandson was born I went to Dallas, alone, promising her I would take her the next day. It was a hurried trip, a quick turnaround trip that required going quickly and on the spur of the moment. I beat myself up the entire way to the hospital, why didn’t I just load her up and go, why didn’t I take the time and the trouble and go the extra step to take her, instead of Marty I took guilt with me in the car.

I know Marty; I know she would never wish the burden of guilt on anyone, she felt it too often in her own life with her own mother. She can’t make it go away, it’s in me and too often I can’t get completely away from feeling that pang. It’s a futile and useless emotion in our life’s situation.

Guilt became something I could use to make me feel as damaged and hurt as Marty. In a strange way I used guilt to punish myself, I used guilt to make me at least as frail and needy as Marty. Guilt, feeling bad about feeling happy was a tool to make the caregiver, me, sick too.

In time, over time, guilt for all things bad in her life and the burden Marty and I put on our families and friend’s lives abated. Understanding I was using guilt as a crutch helped; recognizing I’m not responsible for all bad things helps, knowing I’m not everything to everyone helps, living the life helps, time helps.

It’s still there from time to time, every now and then. It still creeps into my psyche on occasion when I have missed something, when I forget to make an appointment, when we miss a medicine dose, when I let my guard down for just a minute, guilt for all perceived sins past and present breaks past my guard. Eventually you just have to learn that life happens and we simply can’t take responsibility for everything, we can only do our best. It’s all we can do.

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