Guilt: Another Leaf

I’m not a religious person.  Spiritual, yes.  I believe there is a God.  I believe there is a pre-determined destiny for my life.  And I believe in guilt.

I grew up thinking I was Catholic like I was Italian.  It was in my blood and a thing you were, not a thing you did.  The parents sent me to catechism, I made my first communion, and I never stepped foot in a Catholic church again except for a few family weddings and funerals.  But oh, do the Catholics know guilt and it was one tiny little stone from my time spent at St. Mary’s that I’ve carried with me all of these years.  Guilt is like gasoline for someone with anxiety.  It festers and once it ignites you are engulfed in its flame.  No matter how much you try to drop and roll it stays lit until it is ready to be put out.

The tattoo on my shoulder of a twisted tree with leaves floating off on the breeze is symbolic.  I had originally wanted the leaves to each be a word, a weight that I had been carrying and trying to set free, but my tattoo guy said if I wanted words in the leaves they would need to be bigger and the tree would need to be the size of my back and I didn’t have either the money nor the patience.  Each of the nine leaves symbolizes a word and one of those words is guilt.  Guilt for my behavior, my words, my actions, my lack of action.  They are words that I have let go of and as guilt butts in and rears its ugly and malicious head I try not to let it stay too long or let the door hit it on its way out.  I am not always successful, but I try.  Of all of the things I’ve learned over the years and through battling anxiety and depression is that we can’t numb the emotion.  We have to LET IT BE.  We have to feel what it is trying to teach us.  There is a reason.  There is always a reason.

Guilt.  It’s a shitty leaf.  On August 19th it came floating out of the sky and landed oh so firmly on my shoulder.  I saw it coming.  I knew it would fall.

August 19th was my father’s birthday and he spent it in a nursing home and I didn’t go visit.  I argued with myself about it for a good week.  Would I go?  Should I go?  It was a Saturday and I had stuff to do.  More important and enjoyable stuff.  If I didn’t go would he notice?   My brain did this for a full week, relentlessly.

I’ve been visiting him, although not as often as I feel I should (notice I didn’t say “I’d like”).  He’s 40 minutes from my home.  I try to stop by when I’m working in that area on my way home to make it a little easier.  At the end of the day even if it’s convenient to my ride home, it’s a chore.  His birthday rolled around and I didn’t go.  I wondered if he even knew what day it was or that it was his birthday.  He did.

How different my relationship with him is compared to my relationship with my children.  I would never forget to recognize their birthdays and they are so very good about making me feel special on mine.  Those two statements are what helps me to fend off the flames of guilt a little.  It’s a tiny hose with an itty-bitty stream of water dripping from its end, but it helps.

We reap what we sow.  We get what we give.  Life is an echo. Breath and repeat.

I remind myself that I am not the one that got myself in this predicament.  HE DID.  He created this life and I have created mine.  He made choices and his choices led him away from me and my sister and our families.  He chose to lift a bottle to numb the pain rather than to feel the emotions that overcame him and deal with them and be a part of our lives.  He chose to alienate us and avoid our attempts to include him.  HE CHOSE.

Maybe someday I will be sitting in a nursing home waiting for my children to visit and even if I don’t remember their names or their kid’s names they will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that once upon a time I loved them with everything I had.  They mattered.  They were worthy of my time.  They will know this because I have worked hard since the moment they entered this world to make sure they did.

We had a care plan meeting a week and a half after my father’s birthday.  They told us that they gave him a steak dinner, a piece of cake, and got a picture of him (smiling!) in a birthday hat.  He had a rough start there, but he is starting to do OK and people are fond of him.  I’m not sure if I’m imagining them or if it’s the guilt talking, but I feel the looks when I do go in.  We do try to visit for a bit every week or so, but like I said, it’s a chore.  It’s something we feel we need to do.  I wish I was a better person so that that feeling of guilt could go away completely, but I’m not.

I know there is a reason this is happening, that I feel overwhelmed with guilt at times.  Will I let the past go and become this better person or will I stumble across the finish line wishing I had done something different?

For now I try not to let the weight crush me and just let this leaf come and let it go.

4 thoughts on “Guilt: Another Leaf

  1. I wish I had the magic phrase to help you through this, but there isn’t one. Each person must go through this journey alone and find what works for them in each unique situation. Nobody can tell you how or what to feel, but you. But I do know this – guilt is powerful motivator that can wreck your life if you let it. So don’t. How do I know? I, too, couldn’t (didn’t) find the time to visit my dying father during a very, very long and physically awful illness until pressed at the very end from my older siblings. I just didn’t want to deal with it. Of course I felt guilty for not going. I was surely the worst daughter ever. Who wouldn’t want to visit their father, even if we were never close, esp. when he wasn’t long for this earth? Well, apparently me. So when I did finally make the last visit and funeral (which was absolutely not easy, and that’s an understatement), my guilt was slightly abated by the fact that I did do that hard thing (showing up) that I really wanted to run from. I imagined how awful if would be (on me) if I didn’t show up – my mom and brothers would never forgive me, and I really knew I wouldn’t never forgive myself – I wouldn’t get a pass from them and I knew I wouldn’t give myself one. I knew I didn’t want that guilt on top of the already present guilt. Did I show up for my father? I don’t really know. He was out of it by the time I got there, so I think it was more for me and the family survivors. And ultimately, so I wouldn’t feel that nagging guilt forever of why didn’t I go and why couldn’t I just be like all those other families that I see that surround their loved ones on their death beds, etc. etc. etc. So all this to say, please don’t let the guilt of not showing up ruin your life. The easiest fix I know is to actually show up, do that hard thing, no matter what your motivations, because at least you won’t be piling on the guilt on an already high pile of it. You can’t undo the past, but you can control today and the future. You do it for yourself,


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