Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.~Coco Chanel


“Just wanted to say that was very brave and bold to say you didn’t miss Robert. I’m sure the first time you even thought that, you felt a pang of guilt.”

One of my dearest friends, who was also a very close friend of Robert’s, told me that after a girls get-together where we had been counseling a friend whose relationship had ended (though not in death).  As we were talking about moving on, not knowing what’s around the corner and how the best is yet to come, I heard myself say:  “I don’t miss Robert anymore.” It just came out. Naturally. Effortlessly. Truthfully. Perhaps because Robert was an alcoholic in our last years. Perhaps because I’m incredibly happy now. Maybe there’s more to it. But the unrelenting truth was…is… that I no longer miss my late husband. And yes, it feels awful to say that. Mean. Ugly. Heartless.

But I’m none of those things. What I am is the survivor of our marriage.  And the surviving spouse in a troubled marriage is sometimes left with, well…a less troubled life.  In the wake of the devastating reality of Robert’s death, came waves of peace and calm that I had not known for years.

As time went on, I became accustomed to the new normal.  Eventually, fresh hopes and dreams came to mind. No longer blotted with a failing marriage and an alcoholic mate, my future slowly began to unfold into a wonderful life, one I could scarcely have imagined just a few years ago. A life with a full-time partner not tethered to a scotch bottle.

And yet…guilt has its way with me.

The singer, Dave Grohl, talking about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s death, said, “Guilt is cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It’s a black wall. It’s a thief.”

While I don’t let guilt rob me of my happiness or disrupt my newfound calm, it’s always there. It’s like an eye floater, a tiny moving spot that appears in your field of vision, you glimpse a speck but can’t focus on it. It hovers. It might distract, but it doesn’t impede your vision.

Unfair, unjustifiable and yet seemingly unavoidable, survivor guilt finds its way into the widowed heart. Grief’s inevitable successor.

But eventually we stop grieving.  We stop surviving and start living. I want to be done with guilt.  And so I’m letting go and giving guilt the boot.


5 thoughts on “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.~Coco Chanel

  1. Thanks for this post. It’s just over 2 years since my alcoholic husband died and I have never been able to say out loud to anyone that my life is much better now. Those words seem unbelievably harsh and disrespectful and they are submerged in guilt – I feel like I need to whisper it. But it is true, I have a life now. I too experienced a level of calmness and peace after he died that shocked me. My life was no longer dictated by drinking, time control, immense stress and emotional agony. It was just silent. For a good while it was replaced by a package of grief, guilt and anger. But 2 years later, I have to pinch myself every morning when I wake up. I can’t believe that this life – my life – is real. It’s full of happiness, a new partner, zero stress, no addictions. I can now whisper “I miss him but I don’t miss our life”. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to say it out loud. But I’m not sure I’ll ever do it without a big dollop of guilt.

  2. Death of an alcoholic is peace…..relief….and a sense of safety. I feel awful for feeling this way. I no longer worry that he might be lurking around my apartment. I had these fears from the day I moved out until his death 2 years later (even after he lost his license and his car was repossessed….still I feared him). I feel relief, and along with that I feel guilt.
    I can’t imagine the day when I won’t ask myself…If I had stayed with him, or gone back to him, would he still be alive?
    Guilt hangs tough…it’s hard to shake.

  3. What If? Isn’t that what I suffer threw? I’m consumed by this one phrase/sentence. My counselor tells me I’m lucky….he didn’t kill me or Our youngest (still at home) daughter…..I try to understand how the monster took over…how I fought it…..and it ….can’t I just beat it to the ground…..take something metal and beat it …to a pulp. When do I get to scream as I run at the monster…..just kill it repeatedly…..over and over…..for taking You from me. You were the Innocent….I was the fighter…..I lost the battle to save You from the monster…..How I wish I could pound cut slash beat slash stomp crushcrushcrush hit repeatedly over and over again this fucking monster ……I so hate you….if I could put my hands around your neck I would not stop I would kill you without a thought so I could have My Love back…..I hate you….you took everything from me……

    • Wow. Thank you for writing this. It brought me to tears. Your beautiful, powerful words so reflect how I feel too. Utterly heartbroken and devastated.

  4. Thank you for this…it makes me feel so much better about my husband’s death and my feelings regarding it some 2 years later. I’m not feeling so alone!

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