Step 10 - Recognise that all feelings are good and useful
Over the next few weeks, I'll be basing my articles on this "12 Steps to Happiness" post.
My granddad died last week, and emotionally I was all over the place. Sad, because now he's officially gone; confused, because I didn't get a chance to say goodbye except in the form of a letter; relieved, because his suffering is over. Apart from that, I was mostly anxious about how my grandmother would handle the situation. I mean, you don't just get used to being alone after 61 years of marriage overnight, do you. Turns out, there's no need to worry, because granny has a grand attitude: "He reached a good age, he touched many people, we've had a happy time together, now it's time not to complain, but to be grateful." Bless her cotton socks.
I'll now share with you some other feelings that I had. My husband and I have recently moved to the United States and are in the process of getting our residence papers sorted. While said papers were being filed, we had to be in the country. Thus, as timing would have it, there was no way that I could have flown over to Germany to be with my family if I didn't want to risk having to start the dreaded paper-wars all over again, or even be refused to re-enter the country. I was thankful to have this legitimate excuse, because the thing is, I'm not sure I would have gone had I been able to. I loved my grandfather dearly, still do, but I didn't want to remember him lying in a hospital bed hooked up to all sorts of machines like he had been since January, drifting in and out of consciousness and not even recognising everybody. I didn't want to travel over there and have to deal with my family and their needs. And I didn't see the point in going for the funeral, because he was already dead, wasn't he, so what's the point.
It goes without saying that I should have gone, though.
Once I admitted all those things to myself honestly, that added feelings of guilt and shame to the already significant sadness. Guilt and shame about how I would not honour my granddad and accompany him on his last voyage, how I selfishly preferred to deal with my own grieving than pull myself together and help others grieve instead. Also about feeling relief in the first place, because life is the highest good, isn't it, and we should have been everything possible to extend his life. But the truth in this case is that the medics didn't see any chance for a recovery, which is why pretty early on they made it clear that they wouldn't be taking any life-prolonging actions should his body decide to give in. So had he survived longer, he would have been needing full-time care which my grandmother was certainly in no condition to give. This means he'd have ended up in a home, and truthfully, I'm glad his death wasn't drawn out like that.
I've now had many days to think about this, and here's what I found. Every person deals with death differently. Also, every person deals with their feelings differently. Some acknowledge them, some ignore them, some reason them away, some avoid them and focus on something else. In general, feelings like happiness, joy, contentedness, peace are considered good. Feelings like anger, shame, guilt, sadness are considered bad. I don't like good and bad labels, I prefer to look at the feelings in terms of helpful or not. In this case, my sadness helped me connect with my grandmother and communicate with her without having to speak. Acknowledging my feelings of guilt and shame forced me to take a closer look at my stance on etiquette, "shoulds", even my own mortality. What have I learned from this experience? Sometimes it's ok to let people go. And it feels much better to face all feelings head-on instead of adding to the pain by making them into something "bad". Also, there's a time and a place for every feeling, and it's essential to take an honest look at what's going on inside.
Til next time, take care.