Sometimes you learn some little detail, some little piece of information that changes your life. This little gem came at one of the earliest grief conferences I attended.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the grande dame of death and dying was on tour ten years after she had published the door-opening, ground-breaking book, On Death and Dying. My late husband, Dr. Marvin Johnson and I were in her audience in St. Louis. Here was this little lady in a white doctor’s coat, sneakers and jeans, frizzled hair and Swiss accent, speaking to a packed house.
She told how we were so afraid to talk about death and how many emotions are wrapped up in us when we face it. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. The famous stages that were of dying, not grieving, but hey – they all fit both.
Then she said something important to me in that heavy accent. "You don’t have to feel guilty when what you really feel is regret."
There are all the wouldas, couldas, shouldas we have when someone dies or when something tragic happens.
“If I could have known sooner.”
“I could have done something.”
“I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t say I love you. I didn’t, I didn’t I didn’t.”
Add your own list.
I remember a lady telling me how guilty she felt all her life because she and her little brother had been jumping up and down on their grandmother’s feather-tick bed and he suddenly fell to the floor and later died. "If she hadn’t taught him how to jump - - -" She felt guilty all her life.
Here’s the sticker: You can only feel guilty if on purpose, intentionally, with malice aforethought you harm someone emotionally, physically or spiritually.
Then, if you feel bad about what you’ve done, that is guilt. Otherwise, what you feel is regret.
“I regret I didn’t say ‘I love you."
“I regret I didn’t do more.”
So, I took a close look at all the things about which I felt guilty. I didn’t mean to harm anyone. I didn’t mean to hurt. I didn’t have to feel guilty. I didn’t do anything intentionally with, the phrase I love – malice aforethought.
Aforethought. I have a heck of a lot of them every day but there’s no “aforethoughting” malice.
So next time you feel guilty, or when you look at guilt feelings in your past, see if you intended to do harm, to hurt.
My hunch is, no – you regret it.
No more guilt!
Coming up. In two weeks, we’ll have a vicious, sneaky teaser about BOOB Girls XII: The Last BOOB Girl Book. There will by mystery aforethought!