Chapter Six

Because I loved life, I have not sorrow. – On a tombstone

Chapter 6 – Guilt-Free Grief

So far I seem to have escaped the fourth stage of grief – guilt. I feel no guilt

John was happy and successful. He had inherited $35,000 when his step mother passed on at 93 and he was planning to buy a new motorcycle with it when he went to sleep.

I could be angry at Fate, but Jjohn lived his allotted biblical life span. Psalm 90:10 says, “The days of our years are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength, labour and sorrow for it is soon cut off and we fly away.” John was 82 when he flew off.

No one says, “It is a shame he died so young.” He had a full and happy life which I was blessed to share, and I can’t think of anything I could have done to extend his life or make it more fulfilling.

John remained fit and active to the end and shovelled snow all winter long. The under-taker even remarked about how fit he was. He was happily planning our summer motorcycle trips the day before he died.

Our last week was a happy one but a bit strange when I look back upon it. It was as if Fate knew. March 12 was John’s birthday and as well as a birthday dinner I had prepared complete with his favourite Black Forest Cake on the actual date, we went out twice to celebrate.

March 10 we went to Spruce Grove for dinner and to shop for his birthday presents. We always bought presents together. Strangely, he found nothing he wanted but I ended up with two pairs of winter boots and a pair of warm slippers on sale. I don’t need them but at those prices – $13 for all three which had regular prices totalling $125, we couldn’t go wrong. We laughed about going out to buy his present and buying me stuff on sale instead. He had his favourite sandwich at Subways followed by a fruit and fibre muffin and coffee at MacDonald’s.

March 13 we went shopping in Drayton Valley again looking for gifts for John and found noting he wanted. We had a nice birthday dinner and I ended up with two glove, scarf and mitten sets for $1.25 each – 90% off on sale. At those prices…. Once again we laughed about it and decided to keep looking for his present. We didn’t know time had run out.

It was as though Fate was preventing him form spending money on things he would never need. I feel no guilt.

Perhaps I could have hugged him more and said, “I love you.” more often and insisted on buying a lavish gift, but I feel no guilt.

I spent John’s entire inheritance on his funeral and tombstone and I looked up British superstitions so I would get it right. He’s even buried in the southeast corner which they consider the best location. They say, “You can’t take it with you” but he did. I feel no guilt.

I have spoken to many widows who feel guilt over things done and things not done, and things that could have been done differently. It is a stage that many find very troubling and it is also a stage that most of us do not understand.

I have always thought I was a nice sympathetic person but I got a neighbour’s guilt all wrong, I realized with shock. They were a real Darby and Joan (not their real names) couple, always together except when he went for coffee with his friends every morning at the local café. One day Darby went for coffee as usual and had a fatal heart attack in the café. The house was sold and Joan moved into a local senior’s home. We got new neighbours. End of story? Right? No, not quite. There’s the grieving process.

For years I visited Joan and she’d always tell me how guilty she felt because she wasn’t there when Darby died. I’d assure her it wasn’t her fault because she never went for coffee with him, and I’d go on to happier subjects.

After John died, I really listened and got the whole story. Darby had his heart attack with his friends present and 911 sent an ambulance that whisked him away. No one called Joan. When he didn’t return from coffee or answer his cell phone she got worried. She called everyone but no one knew anything. In the middle of the afternoon the doctor phoned to ask permission to remove Darby from life support. Joan’s first question was, “Why is he on life support?”

She was angry and she had a right to be angry. If his friends, the waitress or the paramedics had informed her, Joan could have gone to the hospital with Darby or followed in a car. Either way she should have been present when he was pronounced dead. She could have and should have been there.

I wanted to help Joan so I started reading up on grief. That’s when I discovered the seven stages of grief and helped myself move on. That was also when I realized that poor Joan was still trapped in the third stage of grief, feeling anger as she blamed everyone who prevented her from being with Darby when he did. She had been trapped in stage three for four years as all of us good, well meaning people reacted to her guilt and not to the anger behind it. Grief is a complex process and sometimes the stages overlap in confusing ways. Sometimes when we think we are helping and comforting the bereaved we are merely making polite sounds.

I also think John was stocking up my winter wardrobe for me in preparation for his departure when he insisted I buy so much on sale whether he realized it or not. He loved to keep me warm.

I am just so very glad that he left me no feelings of guilt. Grief is hard enough to bear when everything has gone right.