Anatomy of Grief and Guilt


It was 8:45PM on a Friday.

I couldn’t ignore the aching, the pit-of-the stomach kind. It was the bits.  The dark bits of everything coming together. The union of bits was breaking me apart.

I pulled myself out of bed, ignored the rambling Netflix sitcom buzzing in the background, and stumbled to my mirror. I’m not sure what made me look.  Curiosity? Delirium? Surrender? I have an inkling it was a combined effort; all said motivators working in unison to get me to move. I moved.

I stared at my reflection and started blinking. I could feel the skin around my eyes tighten, constricted by salt and wear. I began rubbing my eyes faster, harder hoping the tears would stop. They didn’t.

My eyes were shut but I could hear myself balling. I placed my head in my hands and let it out.  I let my body shake, my nose run, and tears stream from my eyes. I cried.

I cried.

I cried.

And I cried.

I then turned off the third season of Grey’s Anatomy, stepped back in front of my mirror, looked myself in my eyes and said it was time.  It was time to pull myself together (again), work through the helplessness, reach out to sister-friends, my therapist, my pastor, and allow myself to heal.

The past several weeks have been full of pain, grief, anger and fear; emotions so big that words can’t quite capture the essence of their meaning.  In theory, pain hurts, grief makes you sad, anger leads to irrational outbursts and fear begets anxiety.  When these feelings get together to party, look out. Shut the door, turn out the lights and pretend no one is home.  Party over.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.  Shutting the door only locks them in. Feigned ignorance is not bliss.

In the past month, I watched a dear friend say goodbye to her ill father, I experienced my community come together to mourn the tragic loss of one of our own, I felt my gut wrench upon learning another precious cancer baby was taken too soon and I met a husband who recently lost his wife.  Death does not discriminate.

Six years ago I learned that bad news does not have good timing and that bad things happen to good people, to bad people and to everyone in between.  Aiden getting cancer taught me about guilt. Yes, it also taught me about God, about perspective, about hope and so on. Guilt, though, incorporates an equally important lesson. It’s a lesson not often talked about because, well, people feel guilty.

I didn’t think I had the capacity to pray for anything other than Aiden when he was sick. The loss of my normal, cancer-free, life made me think there was a limit on prayer availability.  Prayers in my mind were a scarce resource.  Seems silly now, but I reinforced this irrationality with fear.  I was anxious that my prayers weren’t enough in volume and in substance.  I felt as if I had to appeal to God to make Aiden well but that I couldn’t relinquish a single prayer to anyone else outside the child-cancer-world. I was stricken with guilt but trapped by fear.

How do you find strength to test  a theory regarding prayer abundance when your sick child is the variable?

Similarly, I worry about how to appropriately grieve the loss of a person whom is not a family member or intimately close friend.  I better understand grief in terms of intimate loss, however this “understanding” does not mean my grief is in any way pretty but the norms associated with intimate grief seem clearer (this clarity does NOT equate ease).  Losing a friend of the family, losing a new friend, losing an acquaintance or public “stranger” makes me question the allowable limits of my grief. Much of this is also steeped in irrationality and helplessness.

Is it okay to cry? Am I crying too much? How do I express the deep condolences that I am feeling in a meaningful way to loved-ones left?

Finally, I feel extreme guilt when grieving my own cumulative situational loss. This loss doesn’t have to do with the death of a person .  It has to do with the loss of innocence, loss of love, loss of dreams and loss of health (or the loss of health of a loved one). Unfortunately, great situational loss is often felt most fiercely during times of extreme challenge; that feeling of being kicked when knocked down.

How can I have a pity party when so many other people are hurting in far deeper ways?


<<<insert the sound of everything in existence coming to a screeching halt>>>


For the love of all that is good and holy, stop the insanity.


Just stop.

I made the decision. I set the intention.  I stopped. (Note: the stopping is part of a process; a process I will likely have to visit again and again.)

Now that all of that mucky-icky-gross guilt shit is out in the open, let’s acknowledge and dismiss. Breathe out the chaos and breathe in clarity. We all are allowed to feel our feelings. YES, FEEL THEM. We have them, whether they are founded or perceived. Our feelings are our own.

Once you acknowledge and dismiss the guilt, you can address the sadness.

I have been so sad recently.  I am allowed to be sad.  I am allowed crawl into bed, binge watch medical soap operas and cry.  I am allowed to cry.

We all are allowed to cry.

We are allowed to feel sorrow in any and every capacity.

We simply must not become enslaved by the sadness. We need to seek support and we need to practice strategies that promote healing. Frequency and consistency are essential.  Acknowledge, dismiss, acknowledge, dismiss, acknowledge…

In the end, prayer is not limited and loved-ones-left often care most about the “being.” Being there, being present and celebrating lives well lived. Just make the effort to BE THERE in some way. Maybe not overtly; maybe being there equates prayer, or a meal or a phone call. All loss is unique and relevant; both personal and public loss matter.  Understand your triggers. Grief matters but guilt associated with loss does not. Let go of the guilt, focus on the healing.

When I reach emotional limits, I am fortunate to have judgement free sister-friends who are willing to embrace my love of McDreamy, curl up next to me in a bed, lay heads atop damp pillows and cry WITH ME about everything and anything and nothing at the very same time.

Let our stories bring us closer.

Be there when others are hurting.

Always allow yourself to feel and do not, under any circumstance, feel bad about it.