A few weeks ago I wrote this blog and by the end of it I was a bit concerned that I might have given the impression that it’s always the right thing to have been by your mum or dad’s side when they passed away. I wrote at the time that I’d blog about why that isn’t the case, so here it is.
If you weren’t there when your mum or dad died and feel like you should have been…..
I think sometimes we have a bit of a straight-out-of-the-movies idea what it should be like when your mum or dad dies. Very, very old, at home in their own bed or favourite chair, quietly, calmly, with loved ones by their side holding their hands. But endings can be as unpredictable as beginnings. This is not how it always happens and this is certainly not the way it should always go.
In case you weren’t there and are thinking you should have been here are two things to think about that you probably haven’t considered:
It might not have been right for you to be there
I spoke in that blog that I felt it was an honour to be sitting alongside my friend near the close of his life, but that is by no means to say that it is that way for everyone all the time. I am far more comfortable around this sort of thing than most and I know I was a calming influence on him and his daughters. But that’s me – and maybe that’s not you.
I worked with a client last week who felt guilty as she hadn’t been there by her father’s side when he died. She felt like she should have been and that he would have wanted her to be there. She felt she had let him down and she was upset to think he was by himself when it happened. These are all assumptions and if she wasn’t there then I would suggest she wasn’t meant to me.
It isn’t always a matter of you sitting there beside them and chatting to them as they eventually close their eyes peacefully. Sometimes the body will do strange or disturbing things at the moment/s of death. I have been at a family member’s bedside when they died and believe me, it can be an unsettling and distressing experience, depending on how the body reacts and how you are feeling. This is not to say that they are struggling or in pain necessarily or even still fighting. I am a firm believer that on some level people choose their time to go….so if they pass away at this point then they have chosen this time – this exact time. But the spirit is separating from the body..…or however you might like to put it……and in those last seconds some odd or scary things can happen to them physically and it might just be too upsetting or just too much in general for you to be there to see it. Death, like birth, is a natural process – but that doesn’t mean it happens sweetly, easily, and prettily. (So all of my friends with kids tell me. And my mum). But if it doesn’t happen sweetly and easily that isn’t to say that it was awful for them. But maybe it would have been awful for you.
Or maybe they did go calmly and quietly but maybe still being present at that moment wasn’t something you were ready for.
And let me ask you something and please, please think very carefully about this– if you weren’t there, did you REALLY want to be? Or did you just think you should have been? It’s ok not to have wanted to be there. This is not an experience that would be comfortable or ok for everyone and it might be one that would have pushed you further than you could handle.
Were there responsibilities and things you had to take care of that required you holding yourself together…which might not have been a possibility if you were present at their death? (I ask because this was exactly my experience).
Would it have upset you too much?
Would you have panicked or freaked out and brought the anxiety levels in the room (of your parent or other people there) waaay up?
And in case you are thinking “ok, ok I don’t think it would’ve been good for me to be there, BUT of course Mum/Dad would have wanted me there” let’s have a closer look at that, because this isn’t just about you.
It’s not always right for them to have you there
Despite the fact that they loved you, sometimes because of this, it might not have been right for your mum or dad to have you at their side.
I mentioned before about freaking out. I have sat with someone who was very ill and very anxious and seen the instant difference in the energy of the room when someone else frightened and anxious walked in. That can create even more anxiety and panic. Could you have stayed calm and relaxed? Or would you have added to the stress? Maybe it was a much more calming environment with someone else there instead of you, or trained doctors and nurses, or no-one at all.
Another reason it might have been better for them is that they may have preferred to protect you from going through that experience. This is your parent we are talking about – no matter what your relationship, deep down they would have wanted to protect you from the most painful things life can dish up, and maybe this would have been one of yours. It may have been far more important to them to save you from this rather than have you there and risk putting you through something that may have been, in some way, traumatic for you.
And this last bit is pretty important but we don’t often think about it. Are you assuming that they wanted you or someone there with them? We don’t always want people with us in life. Sometimes we want to do things alone. Sometimes even the really hard things. Have you ever been going through something tough or a big change and wanted to figure it out yourself or take that next step without anyone holding your hand? Is it so very hard to believe that your parent might have wanted this too? There are things in life that we just need to do alone and maybe this was one of them for your mum or dad. One of my clients identified exactly this – she felt that her dad had needed to do that last bit by himself, without his family beside him. That this was the right thing for him.
If you have been thinking that it would have been better for you to be there with them then have another look at it. Think about why it was better for you not to be. Think about why it was better for them for you not to be.
Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below if you want, or email them to me. And if there is any aspect of the death of someone close to you that you’d like to read about then let me know and I’ll do my best to write about it soon.