Grief vs Guilt

Matthew 5:4 They are blessed who grieve, for God will comfort them (NCV)

“Mommy” guilt – My definition: that feeling that parents have when they are conflicted about whether they’ve done enough, given enough, or done right by their children. A phrase that I believe was initially used when women began leaving the home for the work place, for whatever reason.

“Mommy” grief – My definition: that feeling of sorrow and remorse parents have when they see and recognize the pain their children are experiencing, especially when those children are unable to receive, recognize, or accept the fact of parental love due to historical action or inaction of the parent and the child’s perceptions that followed.

I’ve piled on the mommy guilt throughout the past 25+ years.  Recently, I’ve had others, including my children, indicate that I have much to feel guilty for.  Contrastingly, as I’ve been working through this particular issue, I have had a number of people confuse my expressions of grief as statements of guilt.

Here is what is really going on.  For most of my life I have diverted the grief and sorrow from many events and circumstances: I’ve ignored it, minimized it, covered it up, shoved it away, and buried it.  I’ve spent most of my adult life focusing on the externals as a way of “fixing” myself and my life or as the reason why my life has failed.  However, in the midst of all of that I’ve also known and believed that what’s broken is on the inside and that I don’t have the ability to make it better on my own.  So, I’ve also sought religion, spirituality, therapy, and medicine for healing.  Throughout it all, God has been strongly at work, bringing me to my current place of being.

I’m done apologizing for the mistakes and the missing pieces of my past and in my life.  I understand that I couldn’t give what I didn’t have; I couldn’t teach what I didn’t know; and I couldn’t be what I never was.  That’s where guilt ends and grief begins.  Coming to an understanding of what I didn’t have and couldn’t offer to my own children by seeing the pain they are going through now and knowing the pain their current choices will be bringing them.  Gaining the insight that there’s so much love and compassion that I have kept myself away from because of false beliefs, wrong understanding, and misconceptions opens up the vault of  suppressed grief.

So, as I talk about what is happening with my adult children and how our relationships with each other are currently happening, the tears flow.  That’s grief, not guilt and it’s ok.  I believe that unresolved grief is a significant part of the depression I’ve struggled with the entirety of my adult life.  So, it stands to reason that resolving the grief, allowing it to happen as it should is part of the healing process for my depression.

Sadness and grief are part of life.  These may make people uncomfortable to be around, but they need to be acknowledged and expressed.  If these emotions are not allowed to run their course and a person denies and suppresses them, then emotions such as joy and thankfulness are denied and suppressed as well.  I’m tired of living an emotionally suppressed/repressed life and all of my children and those around me deserve to have the most functional and present me I can be.  So, when grief wells up, I’m going to let it out.  But in your discomfort, please don’t mistake it for guilt and try to explain why I don’t need to be sad about it.  Thanks.

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5 comments

  1. My older siblings confronted my dad about mistakes he’d made. Admitted them but frankly told them he had done the best he could at the time. Some of them wouldn’t accept his reply and tried to make him feel guilty about it—one by writing a rather silly book. Dad never felt guilty for his mistakes but he did grieve and feel sad about the results in his kids. He mourned their inability to understand the situations he faced and why some of his mistakes were so deceptively easy to solve in hindsight. He never gave into their guilt trips and they, for their part, spent nearly all their time trying to make him realize guilt rather than developing a relationship with a really good man who made a lot of mistakes he owned up to and tried to do his best to solve. Even some of his solutions were bad choices, yet he owned up to them and moved on. They have now.

    Unfortunately, all but two made peace with him the night he died. One of them still blames him for her problems and bad life not realizing his hands were tied where she was concerned. It’s sad some people never let go of their brokenness or acknowledge their own part in the process as adults. I’ll keep your children in my prayers, friend.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. For myself, I spent a lot of my young adulthood feeling victimized and blaming those adults in my life who had been “responsible” for my childhood. Sadly, a lot of these attitudes were ingrained into my older children, considering I was still in adolescence when my son was born and young adulthood with my oldest daughter. As I have parented them through various ages and stages I didn’t receive parenting in and faced my earlier attitudes and judgments reflected back at me, I have come to better understand, accept and forgive the ones I had previously blamed and detracted from. I’ve even attempted, when and where possible, to let them know I forgive them and now understand how difficult their interactions with me may have been as they were just trying to get through their lives too.

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  2. Through my years of drug addictions and alcohol, I hurt everybody in my family. My 2 eldest children were taken from me and given to their father due to the abusive man that I lived with. For many years after that I used the drugs to hide from it all and to assuage my guilt/grief. I began repairing my relationships after I left my abuser, only to lose some of them again through my drug abuse (not the children who were older by this time but they were using some drugs of their own by then – not from my influence however since I did not raise them). Then God had had enough and hit me with a 2×4 upside the head (literally) when I was struck down at the age of 46 with MS. I died in a jail cell. Right before it happened, just after I began losing everything in my body, I saw a bright light in the corner of the cell where there was no light fixture. As another inmate was helping me back to my bunk in the holding cell, I began to lose consciousness and starting falling face first toward the concrete floor. She was fighting to hold on to me (losing the battle quickly) and I screamed “Don’t let me die here!!” When I was about 2 feet from smashing my face into the floor, that light flew out of the corner and came right under/into me. At that exact moment, I didn’t care about dying; all I knew was there was (best as I can describe it) enormous love, comfort, joy, compassion, forgiveness and relief that washed in/over/through me. That’s all I felt as I blacked out. I woke up about 2 days later still in that jail cell. They never called an ambulance or anything! I could not stand up because every time I opened my eyes the floor would flip up to the ceiling and then back to the floor in rapid succession making me immediately sick to my stomach. One side of my mouth drooped and when I tried to drink something, it would all run out and down my shirt. I had no equilibrium what so ever. I would fall off of my bunk. there were so many things wrong with me I could do on and on. I thought that I had had a stroke. I began reading my Bible every day. I got a rosary from the visiting nun and began praying it constantly as I tried to walk down the stripe on the floor over and over, day after day. I was in there for 45 days. Can you believe all of this happened over a failure to appear in court?! When the Judge finally let me out, I could somewhat walk but I would only get so far before falling down. After all that happened, I quit my drug use, started exercising every day, prayed multiple times a day, studied my Bible and watched a lot of Christian TV teachings. Today, I am so blessed!!!! I still have a lot of short-term memory problems and equilibrium isn’t the greatest. I take about 8 different medications (blood pressure, restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia) and 1 MS shot a week. I have 1 large scar on my brain and 1 smaller one but have been in remission for 6 years. I have a fabulous, loving husband who married me AFTER he thought that he would have to take care of me for the rest of my life. The neurologist told me that anyone at my age, who was struck as hard as I was NEVER recovers to the degree that I have!! He said that Someone up there must be looking out for me!! I KNOW that is true!! I am a living, breathing miracle. I don’t know if the light that came for me in that jail cell was my Guardian Angel or if it was Jesus Himself. Some days I think it was, but that doesn’t really matter, I know that I know, I was saved from death by heaven itself for a purpose 🙂 Most of my family have forgiven me except my little sister and I don’t let it bother me too much, her forgiveness is sin, not mine. I had apologized over and over again to my children until they finally told me to stop. I have done so much since then that the past is over and they feel I have more than enough made up for it. There are days that a circumstance will be happening with them in their lives that I will have a wave of guilt hit me but as my husband says to me “they are grown adults now and make their own decisions; if they want to live in the past and blame their mistakes on it, that’s their wrong thinking and not your influence.” It’s hard not to feel that guilt/grief but at the same time, he’s right – they have to either grow up or take the blame themselves for the stupid decisions they make. That it all probably more information that what you expected but I thought my sharing it with you may give you some food for thought a let you see that no matter what you’ve done in your past, you are forgiven by heaven itself, even if you have a hard time with doing it for yourself, accept His!!! The love that God/Jesus/Holy Spirit has for us is like nothing you could ever imagine nor could I sufficiently describe, but take it from me, IT IS THERE JUST WAITING FOR US!!!

    Peace, love and many blessings, Terri

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    1. I do appreciate your sharing. I am in the process of learning to accept and understand God’s forgiveness & love in new ways.

      Grief & mourning have a time, a place and a purpose – even God grieves and mourns. So, as I am growing, learning and being healed grieving is a part of that…and God is revealing more about His character and nature of love through it.

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