The Guilt of Happiness

One of the challenging aspects of grief I struggle with is that of guilt. In today’s world of mass shootings, we hear more and more about survivor’s guilt and it is good that we recognize that surviving such an event does not leave you unchanged. But our guilt is not of that kind. Of course, many times we prayed that we be allowed to die from cancer in place of Oliver, but we are not left questioning why we survived a car accident when our child did not.

My guilt is the one of feeling happiness. And, yes, I do experience happiness. Last weekend I did somersaults with Scout in the grass and nothing but happiness can come through as we laughed together. Since Oliver has died I’ve avoided some of that happiness guilt by keeping people, including my family, at arm’s length. If I don’t experience happiness with them then I won’t feel the guilt of being happy despite the fact that my little boy is dead. The end result is being more alone, more bitter, and less happy. Given that Oliver embraced the positive in life even in the midst of dying, perhaps the guilt I should feel is not honoring his legacy. So I’m now working hard on letting the guilt of happiness go.

I awoke before Mary Ann the other day and I watched her sleeping. She is a beautiful woman even as she sleeps. We’ve just recently celebrated 34 years of marriage and as I looked at her I allowed myself to be happy. I’m married to this woman for whom caring is a way of life. She cares for our children, even when they are adults. Her care shows up in the gardens show lovingly tends, the love she has for our dogs, and the care she has for every lost bird and, yes, even bat, that comes her way. She simply has to care for others. So I looked at her and was happy. And I even chuckled as I realized that if I was to lean over and kiss her on the cheek she would brush me away and say “let me sleep.”

Is it right to feel this happy when Oliver is gone?

I’m beginning to understand that it is okay to feel happy. I’ll never miss Oliver any less and I’ll never forget him — I think of him often throughout the day. If guilt has a place in all of this, and I’m not sure that it does, perhaps the guilt should not be in living the life that Oliver modeled so well for us.

I certainly don’t have all the answers and or any complete insight into grief. I only know where I’m at in the journey and I’m not especially proud of the direction I’ve taken over the years. Grief can consume us and the challenge is finding the balance in living with grief. I’m seeking that balance and while I have no doubt I’ll lose my balance often, I’ll continue to regain it and hold it longer each time. And I know there are people standing alongside me that, if I let them, will help me keep my balance.

1 thought on “The Guilt of Happiness

  1. Derek, I’m so glad you’ve started writing and sharing again. Your writings have always put me in touch with life and God in very real and profound ways. Thank you. M


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