“I’m so angry – I can’t forgive him for dying and leaving me,” whispered Amy. “Does that make me a bad person?”
Sweethearts since high school, Amy and Don had been inseparable, and married at age 20. Now, the future they had been constructing was quickly crumbling. Diagnosed with lung cancer just two years prior, Don was now close to death at the age of 32.
“He did this to us. I told him not to smoke and now he’s dying. We were supposed to grow old together, and now he’s leaving me alone.“ As her seven and nine-year-old daughters entered the room, Amy turned her head away to muffle her cries and hide her tears in her newly folded stack of clean clothes.
When poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, not managing diabetes or high blood pressure, substance abuse, or risk-taking behavior result in an earlier-than-expected death, the family can take it personally. They may feel that the ill person did not “care enough” about them to take better care of themselves. Now the ultimate consequence — dying — can feel like abandonment.
It’s hard enough to face the death of a loved one, but the accompanying anger can add an extra burden.
This anger does not negate love. They can co-exist. But it can precipitate feelings of guilt and resentment, becoming thick overlays to grieving the loss of a shared future. For the caregiver, this can be further exacerbated by physical and emotional fatigue.
How do you forgive someone whose choices have had a devastating impact on your life? How do you forgive yourself for being angry?
Start with acceptance. You are only human. When despair is too painful, anger is easier to bear. Acknowledge it. Share it with a trusted person to diffuse the pain. Consider verbalizing it with your dying loved one, who may also need to express it. Then redirect the anger at the illness, not the person.
Once shared, the fog of anger can blow off to reveal shared sadness and shared love. While you will not share a future, you can still create precious time in the present, while remembering the love you shared. Preserve those memories tenderly. Focus on what you can do now as opposed to lamenting a past that cannot be changed.
Your heart is broken.
You would never have been this angry or sad if you had never loved.
Never loving would be an even greater loss.
Tani Bahti, RN, CT, CHPN, offers practical guidance to demystify the dying process. A RN since 1976, Tani has been working to empower families and healthcare professionals to enable the best end-of-life experience possible through education and the development of helpful tools and resources. The current Director of Pathways, Tani is also the author of “Dying to Know, Straight Talk About Death and Dying,” a book that SevenPonds considers one of the most helpful books on the subject available today. Founder Suzette Sherman says, “This is the book I will have at the bedside of my dying parents some day, hopefully a very long time from now.”