Protective parents tend to not die with their children in the room, even if that child is seventy years old. ~ Barbara Karnes, RN
That day I was there for over 12 hours and a friend came and volunteered to stay with her that night. I did not want to leave…I knew she was dying…but I was in denial. I was expecting her to get better to take her home. I left the hospital at 8 pm, but inside of me I had the urgency to tell her how much I love her, and I did before I left that night. At 12:02 my mom passed away…and this is killing me!!! Why I did not stay with her, I’m the only daughter…it was my responsibility to stay, but I was afraid and in denial. She was alone, my friend left at 11:30 pm and I wasn’t there. How can I take this guilt out of my chest…if she is not here to forgive me?
My response: My dear, my heart hurts for you as I read your story, and I am so sorry for your loss. Clearly you have been a loving daughter and a devoted caregiver to your precious mother for so many years, and I have to believe that your mother knew ~ and still knows ~ how very much you love her.
You ask how you can take this guilt out of your chest if your mother is not here to forgive you. I can tell you that you have nothing to feel guilty about, especially the fact that your mother was alone at the time of her death ~ but even as I say that, I know that my words will do nothing to remove your guilt. I can also tell you that the guilt you are feeling is neither rational nor justified ~ but I know that won’t erase the guilt you are feeling now, either. You see, it really doesn’t matter what I say, because the one person from whom you truly need forgiveness is YOU. And forgiveness comes only when you realize you deserve it, you are worthy of it and you are ready to give it to yourself.
If we take a closer look at what is beneath this guilt you are carrying, it may help to know that your mother had far more control over the timing of her death than you did. My friend and colleague Barbara Karnes is an RN who has worked in hospice for many years and has cared for countless dying patients. In her beautiful book, The Final Act of Living, she asserts that we DO have partial control over the time that we die. She writes:
Or how about waiting by my Mom’s bedside for days and leaving the room for a second only to return to find that she has died. Oh, the guilt that goes with that occurrence. It is very important to know, if we are with someone when they die it is because they want us to be with them. If we are not with someone when they die they choose that also. We can take the gift of love and protection that they have given us. Protective parents tend to not die with their children in the room, even if that child is seventy years old (pp. 30-31).
In an article published by Open to Hope, another highly respected grief specialist Dr. Bob Baugher describes what you are experiencing as “Moment-of-Death Guilt” ~ because you were not there to say “goodbye” to your mother.
I was able to be with my mom in her final hours, and I did not say goodbye. I said, ‘I love you’ And although I was not with my dad when he died, the last words I shared with him as I left his home on what was to be his last night, I kissed him and said, ‘I love you.’ If you did not get to say goodbye, let go of the hurt you are experiencing. You would not have said it, even if you had had the chance! You would have said, ‘I love you.’
I hope this information proves helpful to you, my dear, and I wish for peace and healing to your hurting heart.
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