Death & Guilt & Moving On

It’s been three weeks.

Three weeks since life ended.

Three weeks since life resumed.

And I still haven’t figured out what to say.

When the process of dying is prolonged, it messes with a person. Not just the person dying but the people who care for him as well. Your emotions trick you and betray you and guilt you and sometimes overwhelm you.

Am I sad? I think so. Do I look it? I doubt it.

Do I miss my father-in-law? I think so. But not the recent him. The him from before. Except…

That smile. His smile over the last few weeks. It was so genuine, so simple, so pure. It lit up his face like a child. It would come on suddenly like a flash of lightning across his face. I couldn’t get enough of it. It stood in such stark contrast to his personality before he got sick. He was fairly negative during the time I knew him. Not toward me. He wasn’t unloving. But his outlook on the world was glass-half-empty.

And now the guilt sets in. How could you? How could you say anything bad at all?

But I don’t see it as bad. Just fact.




I think it surrounds so much of this process. Guilt at getting my husband for five days at the expense of his father staying in a nursing home that he didn’t want to be in. Knowing that his outlook took a nose-dive the day it was time to go. But overjoyed that I got my husband anyway.

Guilt at hoping for release. Guilt at getting impatient at the rebounds.

Guilt at slipping away to see my mom and leaving my husband there to tend to his dad. Guilt at seeing my naked father-in-law as I helped change sheets and wondering if he knew or cared.

Guilt at getting put out with my husband for not appreciating all that I was doing when he was living a life I can’t even imagine.

Guilt at not bursting into tears when I found out. Guilt at being a little upset that I had been woken up to receive the news.

Guilt at taking so long to write this blog.

Guilt at how quickly I resumed “normal life” after. Guilt at not recognizing that my husband was not resuming normal life nearly as well as I thought. Guilt at failing to notice his struggle.


The kids didn’t cry.


Jane, when prompted, said she had already come to terms with it. Daryl got still for a minute and then went about what he was doing. Hal matter-of-factly stated, “Two things. First, a good thing. Daddy is coming home. Second, bad. Poppy passed away.”

How is one supposed to act when the news you knew would come finally does? It’s not a surprise. The horror and anguish and anger and great sense of unfairness of it all has already been lived out. What is there to do besides nod and continue on. Say a prayer of… what? Thanksgiving? The suffering is over. Whose suffering? Sometimes I wonder who gets more of the release. The living or the dead.


I suppose the dead.


Now we have the house and the accounts and the notifying people and decisions, decisions, decisions. My husband has become a monotonous accountant droning on to me about the various options for dealing with this or that fiduciary obligation. I know he needs me to listen, to help him decide, to be present, but…


Life doesn’t stop.


We need to spend time there. At his father’s house. Sorting through papers and clothes and artwork and… stuff. But basketball. Destination Imagination. Church. Choir. School. Work. Meetings. Bells. Laundry. Dishes.

How can life feel on pause for two and a half months yet not pause now? How did all that stuff get done while we waited, while we were apart? Why is it all overwhelming us now? When do we fit in this settling of an estate?

Despite all these words, I still haven’t figured out what to say.

To you.

To people who express their condolences.

To my husband.

To my children.

To myself.

10 thoughts on “Death & Guilt & Moving On

    • You know, I actually write some funny sprouted about the kids a week or so ago and was like, my last post was about this illness and pending death – doesn’t seem like I can just transition to happy stuff without providing the closure on that topic.

  1. I’ve been in that boat before, when my grandfather died…I felt bad but it was also kind of a relief that all the suffering was finally over. The guilt is common but really nothing for it then move on.

  2. I get this, I really do. I watched my father battle illnesses–first just “serious,” then, eventually, overtaken by “termnial”–for 14 years starting when I was nine years old. The guilt I felt, and which all of his kids, and my Mom, must have felt at times was overwhelming. When he passed, a sense of relief washed over me as I then became fraught with worry over how Mom (who handled it so delicately but bravely throughout) and my younger sinlings would move forward. I was so relieved, in fact, that Inwas criticized by classmates at college and “friends” who didn’t know better because I wasn’t acting “sad enough” for their taste.

    Years later, my Mom took care of her 90+ mother for an entire decade. My grandmother died just before she reached 100 years old. Blind, deaf, combative, frightened, angry, accusatory, insomniac, fitful, and someone who, even when she was young and alert and sighted and could hear, was never, ever a kind person. She had been critical and prone to highly dramatic expressions of indignant grudge-holding. I’ve been working on aseries of essays about her. But part of me feels too guilty about my distaste for her to ever finish them.
    Because Guilt.

    So, two quite divergent motivations for the same gut reaction.

    Not because I did or didn’t love, but because the process of watching the decline, especially one so protracted, is exhausting. And while we try to hang on to the moments we have left, it isn’t always possible to enjoy them, or even appreciate them. The process and the resolution are each difficulties that few others can understand.

    Be kind to yourself. And peace be with your entire family as you adjust. Some of us understand and are with you.

    • Yes! That captures the situation well. I thought many times that people watching from the outside really have no place to comment with anything that’s not approve. We’ve been fortunate in that regard.

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