He had been very hesitant about coming into the office, not because he didn’t like us but because he didn’t like the reason behind the visit. His wife was terminally ill and for several weeks she’d been after him to go to the funeral home and make certain the cemetery lots they planned to use had been transferred into their names. He knew it needed to be done. He knew it wouldn’t take that much time. But deep down inside, he had the nagging fear that, if he went, she would die and it would be his fault. Never mind that the doctors had told them Death was on the horizon. Never mind that he had been by her side for the entire battle and could see the toll it had taken. If he made the trip and took care of the business, he was signing her death warrant. But on that day, in spite of his misgivings, he had finally given in to her wishes and walked through our doors, telling us during the visit he knew that wasn’t how it worked and he knew his fear wasn’t rational, but still . . .
She died that night.
When the employees arrived the next morning and learned what had happened, they were horrified—not because they thought his nightmare had come true but because they knew that’s what he would believe. He would feel responsible for her death, even if he never admitted it.
As difficult as it is to lose someone you love, it’s so much harder when you believe you’re somehow at fault. In this gentleman’s circumstances, there was nothing he did to bring about the death of his beloved wife—but that knowledge won’t quiet the still, small voice in the back of his mind.
If death occurs because of an accident—a true accident that no one could have prevented—the survivors may still feel they should have been able to save the person or people who died. If your loved one is battling an illness which eventually takes their life, you may feel you should have done more . . . one more visit to another doctor . . . one more treatment to be tried. There may always be something we think we should have done or some way in which we believe we failed. Guilt can be as unreasonable as it is strong, neither of which makes it right. So for those of you who may find yourselves feeling this way, please let me assure you of something.
You aren’t that powerful.
Most of us will never hold the keys to Life and Death. We may be able to prolong one and delay the other, but not for long and certainly not forever. Death, in its many forms and fashions, will eventually circumvent even the best laid plans, and our inability to keep that from happening is simply a fact of life—and one for which we should not insist upon taking the blame. Loss is hard enough without adding the extra burden of unreasonable guilt. If that’s where you are right now then please, cut yourself some slack. I’m pretty sure your loved one would want you to.