I’m accustomed to feeling all sorts of colliding emotions with grief – anger, depression and even regret, but shame was a new one on me. I didn’t even know what to call it when I experienced it.
Do you ever feel shame within the context of your loss? My dictionary defines shame as “a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.”
There’s room for shame in society. We should be ashamed for things that are against morality. Grief isn’t something to be ashamed about, and yet there it was, sitting on top of my chest.
That afternoon, I had been at my parents’ unoccupied home with my husband. I’d been rambling about the house, trying to figure out what next to discard, give away or pack. I’m down to the wire on this one – after eight years, we’ve decided to sell the house. I gotta finish cleaning it out.
I found myself acting in the same way I did in the first few years after Mom died. I stared at her paintings, leaning against a wall in a corner. I never particularly cared for them. The colors aren’t bold enough for my tastes. But give them away? I only have one of her paintings. She’s not around to create more. I couldn’t decide, so I left them there and walked to the back bedroom.
I gazed up to the top shelf of Dad’s closet where a puzzle of all the presidents (through Kennedy) sat under a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game. We played the game on my first birthday at that house. I won each time, even after my mom secured the blindfold to make sure I wasn’t cheating.
I just couldn’t disturb the stack. It had been right there all my life. And so on and on through the house I went, frozen, unable to move anything until my husband prodded me a bit. I could have made so much more progress, but I kept envisioning an empty house. Empty of my parents.
At home, I lambasted myself as I folded our clothes on the bed. I’m in the same place I was. I can’t believe this is as hard as before. I should be further ahead.
And there it was – shame. Why?
For all these years I’ve been gentle with my pace of progress. I’ve loved going to their house and making discoveries that reconnected me to my parents. At their home, I meticulously went through their things and through my grief. It took however long it took. I was healing.
Now that I’ve combed through all their stuff, that stage is over. And yet the attachment remains.
Standing over a basket of warm clothes, I realized I was judging myself. I’d stumbled into that old societal thinking. It says grief must be something we get over, get past and be done with after a reasonable time.
Truth be told, I also was embarrassed that I’m supposed to be helping people with grief, and I’m still dealing with issues I dealt with at the beginning. I felt unworthy of my calling. I thought: What would other people think of me?
Maybe this experience will keep me humble. Maybe it keeps me relevant. We’re in this together. It’s not me on a platform. We’re all learning together.
I’m as attached to my parents’ things as I ever was. But I’ve resolved I won’t be ashamed of it. And here’s why:
Maybe losing my parents and losing their home, where I grew up, would have been too much for me at one time. A double whammy. It’s true I’m grieving my folks afresh now, but not in exactly the same way. I’ve tackled issues about suffering, regret and legacy that loss brought on. I’m rooted in what was then a new marriage. Altogether, I’m in a different place than eight years ago.
Now it’s time to grieve letting go of the house. I’ll handle this in the same way I grieved my parents – piece by piece, head on, and without shame.
Do you ever feel shame within the context of your loss? What self-talk or other measures did you use to combat it?
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