November 4, 2018, I lost my dad in a tragic motorcycle accident. When I called around trying to get answers, the guilt started peeking through my windows of panic. I was in a state of disbelief when my mom confirmed the news, that I could tell, she couldn’t fully process herself. He just went for a ride, like he had done a hundred times before. He was going to play video games and hang out with my cousin. It was an ordinary day, and nothing noteworthy was taking place. Why did it end in such tragedy?
The guilt that hitched a ride with my grief is something I was not planning to host. I wasn’t readying it’s bed and folding its towels. I wasn’t preparing my broken heart to rearrange it’s pieces around this unwelcome stranger, but it did. Guilt seeped through the cracks and made itself comfortable. It looked at my broken pieces and got out its file to sharpen the edges. It made me look at things I had no control over and worry about how selfish I must be.
I am the oldest female child, and those birth order and gender role stereotypes shaped how I felt about not being there when the news broke. I always assumed I would be there for the other parent should something happen, but I wasn’t prepared for an accident scenario. I was only preparing for an old age situation where my parents had already moved into my home, and I was their caregiver. Guilt.
When I had the news confirmed by my shell shocked mother, I hung up the phone without checking to make sure she was OK. I just hung up after the words spilled out of her mouth. Guilt.
My children had to comfort me. My children, who believed I didn’t cry, had to steady their mother’s shaking shoulders, and listen to tortured uncontrollable wails escape her. Guilt.
Hearing the harsh words of a well meaning person say “at least your real dad is still here.” Had I not told you, had I not shown the world the place this man held in my life? Did I somehow not allow this person to see one of the proudest parts of me? Guilt.
Months later I continued to wrestle with the guilt of it all. I didn’t talk to my biological father for nearly a year after the funeral. Guilt over not feeling guilty. Realizing the catalyst for the repair of the relationship between myself and my biological father was my dad. Now that he’s gone, the relationship somehow doesn’t seem as safe. Guilt.
I find it strange how no one talks about the torn nature of a stepchild’s heart when the very person that chose to love them leaves this earth. When your stepparent has such a large impact on your life, when they die you feel torn between knowing and feeling the weight of the loss, but also trying to balance the biological parent’s assumed feelings that you have inadvertently taken on. The guilt that comes with that is immense.
While I know that most of the guilt I feel is nonsensical, I can’t help but know its there. I shove it away, but it always comes back. I feel guilt for mundane things as well. Enjoying a sunset, or not enjoying a sunset. Not realizing how many months have passed. Going to a new place that he didn’t get to visit. Not taking enough pictures, or saving enough voicemails. Not living closer so my kids could’ve had more time with him. Not wanting to live closer because I hate the cold.
The list of things I feel guilty about, no matter how ridiculous could go on and on. I know it's not just me, and I know that death is only one type of mourning, which brings its own unique set of guilt. If you’ve lost a loved one and guilt is weighing you down, know that you aren’t alone.
Those of us that have lost a parent belong to an uncomfortable club that we didn’t ask to be a part of. We have a perspective that we wouldn’t want to pass to anyone else. We are not few, and we will always be healing. Eventually our broken pieces won’t feel so sharp, and our guilt won’t be as heavy; that’s the best we can hope for, since the loss will always be felt.