Guilt is the Thief of Joy

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

Not too long ago, I read an article by a young mother who had almost died from a brain aneurysm. On the night her aneurysm burst, she realized that if she died, her young daughter would never know her. She survived and resolved to change her life — to become kind, gentle, giving, loving and to not say anything negative about another person. She wrote that it’s “as simple as replacing a negative thought or comment with a positive one”. And that it’s easier to be a “nice girl”.

I’ve been chewing on this ever since …

Learning your oldest child has brain cancer is a similar kind of wake up call. I wish I could say that I became Mother Teresa as a result. I didn’t. I still got irritated with my kids, even Jimmy. I continued to overreact to the “small stuff”. I still wanted time to myself. I whined about not having enough time or energy to exercise and about feeling fat. When I felt let down or hurt by a friend, I complained about it.

And then I felt guilty, in the moment, when I reflected back on my behavior and especially after Jimmy died. How could I be worrying about myself when Jimmy was sick, undergoing horrific treatment, feeling miserable? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t curb my tongue or suppress my irritation? Why couldn’t I just let the comment or perceived slight go?

Suffice it to say, I did not find it easier to be a “nice girl” then, and I don’t find it easier now. Nor did I discover how to pop negative thoughts out like puzzle pieces and replace them with similar sized positive ones. But I did change. Jimmy’s illness and Jimmy himself taught me to be grateful for the smallest of gestures and the simplest of blessings. I found myself appreciating other people, the world and my life more. I looked for the helpers .. and found them. I searched for laughter, bright spots and joy and found those, too .. over and over and over again. I cherished my time with Dan and the kids. I learned to say ‘yes’ to anything that involved us being together as a family no matter the cost or work involved to make it happen. I worked on being kinder and more present and discovered in the process how many people in this life are suffering far more than I’d realized.

Am I better person now? Yes. Definitely. But a purely positive “nice girl”? Not even close. After mulling it over, I realized that I don’t want to be either. Life is confusing, confounding, messy and complicated. I am, too, much of the time. So are the people I love most. If you offer me a choice between perfect and real, I’ll take real every time. Because that’s where the beauty, joy, mystery and wonder reside.

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  • Julie Pierce Nichols says:

    I wish I was more of a “nice girl”. Sometimes its much easier to be a “mean girl” as you are not happy with the way your life turned and it is much easier-for me anyway-to be negative these days than positive. I am trying 🙂

    • Margo Fowkes says:

      So true. Being kind takes a huge amount of energy when you’re grieving. May that get easier for you with time. You are so early in your grief process, my friend. Taking care of you is what’s most important right now 💙

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