Often when someone we love dies we have unfinished business with him or her. There are things we’ve never said, secrets we’ve never revealed, confessions we have not made or received. When the person is gone forever we suddenly realize how hopeless our situation is: we can never rectify or have rectified the wrongs that stood between us. The time for making amends, on both sides, is utterly gone. We cannot get even the hope, the possibility, of healing or forgiveness back.
When the dying person has hurt us, our need for them to confess their knowledge of what they did, even just in secret to us alone, may overwhelm us as we see them moving away from us. The death of an abuser will naturally trigger deep angers and fears. We may feel that we want to strike out, to wound, to exact revenge or justice, as if dying was not good enough. Indeed, dying is not good enough to heal the wounds the dying one has inflicted. But our release from the anger and hurt we carry will rarely come from the other, the one who caused the pain. Our release, our healing must come from within. Hearing the words, “I’m sorry,” before it’s too late, may help, but in the long run we must do the hard work of giving life to ourselves from the inside out. A wise therapist is called for to help with this process.
When the abuser is a parent or spouse, our feelings as they die are further complicated by the fact that we have also loved him or her. We may feel guilty for having loved this person, or guilty for wanting him or her to love us differently than they have. We may feel guilty for the times when we wished he or she would die, as if our wishing it were somehow powerful enough to make it happen. We may have feelings of guilt about our own worth, tormenting ourselves with all of the, “If only I had” s.
Again, work with a competent therapist is called for in order to sort through these conflicting and self-deprecating feelings.
In the absence of a therapist there are some things that may help. Finding a room where we can scream, punch pillows, or kick boxes can give us some of the physical release we need. Confronting our dying one by “talking to” an empty chair may also help us find relief. Writing letters, throwing stones into water, jumping on a trampoline, or just stomping lets some of our pent up anger find a place outside of our bodies. Letting the anger out is an essential part of the work of grief.
I will deal with the guilt that comes from feeling that we have somehow abused the dying one in my next posting.