This has been the hardest post to write from this series; although the previous one was tough, admitting having gone through grief, guilt, regret in the face of my mother’s death has been even more difficult to tackle. Then I keep reminding myself that the reason I started this series is for my children to be able to read when they are older and not only learn about my life but hopefully also learn important lessons through my experiences.
For those who have experienced the death of a closed loved one, my story is going to sound familiar. I’ve come to realize that many of us experience feelings of grief, guilt, regret, and shame when someone close to us passes. In hindsight, some of those feelings don’t seem to make sense. They are all feelings and they just represent the different ways we cope with tragedy and loss.
As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, shame is defined as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety”. It is also defined as “something to be regretted”. I looked up the definition to understand my own feelings and put into words sentiments I couldn’t understand but were hurtful. My hope is that in sharing this, my own children and you, the reader, can benefit from it and spare yourselves of the self-flagellation that is inflicted by grief, guilt, regret, and shame.
I’ve felt this type of despair three times in my life: when my childhood friend died and I didn’t get to say goodbye, when my first nephew died and what happened was indirectly linked to me, and when mamá died. The latter has been the most excruciating and everything surrounding her last few weeks on this earth up to the very last moment she was with us, I have played over and over in my head.
The Burden Of Carrying Grief, Guilt, Regret and Shame
The year 2013 was a strange one for me; a lot of things were happening and I traveled, laugh, shared with friends and even visited the Dominican Republic seeming to be “fine”. Now that I look at the pictures of me during that year I can see not only how overweight I was, but also that despite the fact that I’m smiling in the pictures, as usual, my eyes tell another story. If you pay close attention, they can tell you I’m anything but fine.
I was grieving, of course, I think I still am. However, what was weighing on me was feeling guilty for so many things. Guilty because I stayed in New York two more weeks to go to a conference when I could have been in Raleigh with mamá, spending that time with her, instead of getting here later, just 24 hours before she had her heart attack. Guilt because that last night I didn’t tell her how much I loved her, guilt because maybe I could have done more.
Then the feelings of regret for not acting sooner come, for not identifying she was having a heart attack, regret for not calling an ambulance instead of driving her because we thought the hospital was close. Also because it will be more expensive to call an ambulance and she had no insurance. Then came the regret for having moved from New York City, what was I thinking?! And all of that guilt and regret made me feel profound shame.
As an adult, I felt ashamed that we moved our whole lives, mamá died and now we were struggling financially. Feeling that I was irresponsible towards my children for being in the situation my husband and I were in. Every day that went by, every day of grief, guilt, regret was slowly drowning me in shame.
Despite it all, I continued pushing through. I had to. I had two kids to raise and it was up to me to get out of the situation. It didn’t happen quickly, and it definitely didn’t happen during 2013. The best way I can describe it is that I was going through what is known as the ‘Duck Syndrome’, which is described as ‘when a person appears to be calm and in control on a superficial level when in reality the person is frantically trying to keep up with the demands of life’.
Being honest, I don’t know how I did it; how we [my husband and I] made it through 2013, and the very tough 3 years that came after. I know my kids were and continue to be great motivators to grow and do better, but I also know I wasn’t at a good place emotionally. I would often be working, locked in my room, crying about mamá, about moving, about being broke. And again, grief, guilt, regret, and shame continue to creep in.
From that experience I realized I had to make changes, I discovered the main need was to start healing from within. I embarked on a search for personal responsibility and honesty. I don’t mean responsibility in the sense of being a parent, or being financially responsible, I mean digging deeper within and working through a lot of difficult feelings that I needed to address.
It is still a work in progress. I know it will be for a long time. However, like the title of this post says, I almost drowned in shame. But I didn’t drown. In fact, I made it to the other side.
– 36 made me strong.
Now, four years later, at 40, I’m stronger because of that experience and not in spite of it.