Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Widows Guilt

Dear Seth,

Since I last wrote to you a lot has changed for me. Mainly, that I have returned to Baltimore and gone back to work. The truth is, if it was practical, I could stay in Pittsburgh and visit your grave for hours at a time, every day, for the rest of my life. I am sad that I am no longer in Pittsburgh to visit you. I am sad that if I am "lucky" enough to live a long, healthy, life, that it means I will not be able to see you again for many, many, years. People continuously talk about how young you were. I hate to admit this because it is selfish, but I find myself more concerned with my age. I am concerned that I will not be able to see you for 50-60 years because I am so young. I feel guilty admitting that this is a worry of mine. I should be so lucky that I am healthy. You would have given anything for a life much longer than you lived. And here I am wishing mine away so that I can see you again. In reality, I don't mean this. In reality, I just wish this did not happen and that I did not have to think things like that in my mind. I am still going to my counselor. I think I will talk with her about this when I see her this week. 

I have been experiencing a lot of guilt since I got back from Pittsburgh. I am following different pages on Facebook and many of the widows and widowers describe the same feelings. At least I am not alone, I guess. I feel like I am not that anxious, but I probably am, just about different things than I used to be anxious about I suppose. I spend a lot of time thinking about what other people think of my grieving process. Our family and friends tell me not to care what other people think. I can hear you saying to me, "it is okay to not be okay." Heidi told me that you always told her to "be you." You always told me not to be consumed with other peoples opinions. I suppose I should just care about being me and not what other people think. In so many areas of my life this is not a problem for me anymore. But with losing you, it is different. 

Before you passed away, you and I discussed what I would do if you died. You told me you were not scared of dying, but you were worried about me (and our families). How would I handle myself? How would I handle being alone? When you asked me these questions I felt uneasy when I was answering you. I did not want you to worry so I told you I would be okay. I told you I would figure things out. And I knew that the truth was, with time I probably would. On the flip side, when we discussed this and I gave those answers, I worried that you would think that I did not love you. I worried that you would think that I would "move on" and forget you since I would apparently be able to "figure things out." Fortunately, I was able to talk about these concerns with you. How lucky we were to be able to have these discussions with each other. They were not easy conversations. I cannot imagine what it was like for you to talk about your own death. I am so proud of us for being brave enough to do so, especially you. You were not scared. You were simply amazing. 

Since you have died, I continue to experience the same uncertain feelings. I went back to work yesterday. Over the weekend I was very concerned about this. The truth is, I was really looking forward to going back. I was grateful to have the time off and I think I needed it. But over the weekend I could not wait until Monday as I knew I was returning to work for the first time since December 23rd. I was looking forward to the distraction. I was looking forward to working with patients. I was looking forward to seeing my coworkers. When you were sick, the only time I could completely turn my brain off of my worries was while I was at work. I had patients to treat and they relied on me for their safety and their well being. I love what I do and I care very much about the patients that I work with. When I was with them, they had my undivided attention and for those brief moments I did not have to worry about my sick husband. You and I discussed this because you felt the same way about your job. You loved it very much and it gave you a sense of purpose. It gave you freedom from all of the worries you had about life and death. I was happy that you had that freedom at work and you were happy that I did too. This weekend was very difficult for me though. I was so looking forward to returning to my job, but I was consumed with what this would mean to other people. I was concerned with what this would mean to you. I was concerned that I was betraying my late husband.

Would my happiness about work mean that you would think that I did not love you? Did this mean that my coworkers, my family, and my friends would think that I was "over you" after only six weeks? Would they judge me for this perception that they had? Would you be mad at me for "moving on" so quickly? The rational side of me understood that you would never think that, because it simply is not the case. The anxious side of me could not stop thinking about it for days. I love my job and I knew a distraction would be good. I also understood that I could not live off of visiting your grave every day. So why would you be mad at me for being fulfilled at work? Why would you be mad at me for making money to pay the bills? What does experiencing happiness at my job have to do with my love and grieving for you? Nothing! Yet I lay awake at night feeling guilty about things like that. 

I finally convinced myself, with the help of our family and friends, that you do not want me to waste my life. You told me that. You told me you wanted me to be happy and I promised you that I would be. But I still could not get over what other people would think. If my coworkers saw me laughing or smiling at work, would they think that I was done grieving? Would they judge me for not loving and honoring my husband? Would my friends think that I ever really loved you in the first place? Believe it or not, I actually asked Josh L. if he knew that I love you. Obviously, he said yes. Of course he said yes. I even asked him how he knew. He said, "you were inconsolable when they closed the casket. That might be one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever heard." You know what got me about that conversation? That I even had to ask him something like that. But, as I said, I was afraid going back to work would mean that I didn't love you in your eyes, and in the eyes of others. I needed proof that this was not the case. He actually said, "of course you love Seth. Being at work has nothing to do with that." He told me you would be happy that I went back to work. He told me that you would be happy that I applied for a new position (I will fill you in on that another day). When I asked why you would be happy his response was, "Um. Meredith had the drive to apply for a new position. Meredith is going to Nashville! (also another day and another conversation). Or,  Meredith is up at 2:00 am crying. Which do you think Seth would like?" Obviously I knew the answer. 

I have been back at work for two days now and I could not be happier. I also know that my fears about my coworkers were wrong. And quite frankly, I am so happy about being back, that even if people judged me I would not care. The chaplain told me not to worry about what other people think. He said, "your grief is your process." Josh L. told me that my happiness at work has nothing to do with my love for you. They were both right. Gina told me that my coworkers would be happy that I was back. She said that they would be more concerned if I did not come back. She was also right. Of course my sister, our brothers, and our parents said the same thing. They were all right. These have been the best two days since you left me. I have experienced the best crying since you died while driving to and from work the last two mornings. They were tears of sadness because I miss you. But they were also tears of joy for realizing that I could be happy at work and that you would want that for me. For the first time, other than at the cemetery, I opened up to you out loud and talked to you in the car. I cried tears of joy because I believe that you really could hear me and that you really were listening to me. I know now that work, love, and grief, have nothing to do with each other. I know now that it does not matter what other people think. Although, it does matter to me what you think. But I know now that you are happy, just like Josh L. (and many others) said you would be. There is no need to feel guilty for "living" at work. There is no shame in having a purpose. I will continue to happily experience "freedom" at work.

Unfortunately, the guilty feelings do not stop with work. The list goes on and I will address those concerns another day. I can only take on one journey at a time. Yesterday I started my journey back to work. Next week I will start my journey back to our house, to our home. Only one journey at a time. 

I love you Seth. I miss you so much. But I want to thank you for being the husband that you were. I want to thank you for having the courage to talk to me about love, death, and dying. I want to thank you for telling me that you wanted me to be happy. I want to thank you for teaching me about faith. On my journey to work I found my faith again. I finally started believing that you were with me and that you were listening to me. Thank you for being a part of all of my journeys. And, as I said to you so often, "thank you for being my favorite." 


"Don't give up. Don't ever give up."

Seth Jacob Budai Caring Bridge Page

Here are pictures from my 2008 graduation from PT school with my doctorate. You were so proud of me and have always supported me in my career. Why wouldn't you be happy that I returned to work?

Here are the links to articles and documents that I have read about Guilt. At least I am not alone?

Survivors Guilt - A Blog

Widowhood: The Psychological Traps

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