Thursday, June 18, 2015
One of the feelings which is part and parcel of grief but seldom is mentioned is relief. The relative silence on the subject is perhaps due to the guilt a person might feel admitting that he or she feels relief that someone has died. “What kind of person does that make me?” you might ask yourself, and if you were asking me now, I’d answer, “You are the normal kind.” There are a lot of reasons to feel relieved when someone dies, and some make more sense than others. When my uncle who had molested me died when I was sixteen, I felt nothing but relief. I did not question my feelings. No guilt there. Years later I made a special trip to the cemetery to dance on his grave. I wonder how often people do that. When I got the news that my father died, my first thought was, “I am half an orphan,” and then a sentence arose in my mind unbidden: he’ll never be able to hurt me again. I always thought my dad loved me, but he had a temper. He did not hit me often, but when he did, he hit for distance, as the joke goes. When he died, I felt a little relieved. I was surprised. I felt guilty. What was the matter with me? I told no one. When my mother died, again I felt relief. That, I understood. In talking to other people I have learned how common being hit was in the 1950s. Some parents hit without a moment’s compunction, and nobody thought much about it. A lot of children were slapped and hit regularly. My mom was a daily slapper and hitter, but probably more hurtful was the emotional and verbal abuse that also occurred daily. I could not get anything right for her. My mother was usually angry and wasn’t much fun, and I had to be hyper-alert and on my guard around her. I loved her, I hated her. You can imagine how confused I felt, or maybe you don’t have to imagine if you had such a parent. When she died, I felt enormous relief. My deepest condolences and sympathy to those of you who had that kind of parent. For about six months after her passing, I sat on the couch every night wrapped in a warm blanket and watching John Edward talking to dead people on television late at night. I grieved the loss of my mother. It was a year and a half before, one day, I felt I had turned an internal corner and was able to begin living my life in the rarified air of no parental potshots. I have spoken with various counselors and friends and have realized that relief is not an uncommon feeling when someone dies, especially if they hurt you, but sometimes for other reasons. During the last weeks of Rick’s life, it was clear that he was not going to get better. His vital organs were failing. All the drugs and machines that were meant to keep him going weren’t enough in the end. You are never ready for someone to die no matter how ready you think you are. I would like nothing more than to have one more night lying next to him in bed, talking as we often did about anything and everything, but I was relieved when he died. The long losing battle was over. He wasn’t suffering any more. One relief I felt after Rick died that is tough to admit is that I was relieved that I was no longer annoying him. For example, when I drove him to medical appointments he freaked out if I became distracted while driving. After he spoke to me about this, and it wasn’t in a calm voice, I did try to focus when I drove so as not to upset him. Once he was gone I didn’t have to worry about annoying him anymore. Once he was gone I wanted to stay home and be alone forever so I wouldn’t bug anyone ever again, but it turns out that it bugs some people when you don’t leave the house. You can’t win. So you see, there are many reasons why you might feel relief when someone dies. It’s normal, it’s common, and you’re not stony hearted or defective if that’s what you feel. So don’t add guilt for feeling relieved to the burden of your grief. You are feeling bad enough as it is. Tell you what, though. It would be a RELIEF for me to write about something other than grief. Maybe the next column will be about dogs and cats. People like dogs and cats.