Thursday, 20 February 2014

The guilt factor

I went to bed with a heavy feeling in my chest.

As my eyes closed and I lay in the dark with thoughts of the night's events swirling through my brain, I recognised the feeling well - the guilt was back.

There's a lot of reasons to feel guilty these days, take your pick: guilt for not being better at your career, guilt for not doing the things you set out to do that day, or that year, or before you were however old because, when all is said and worked and eaten, you just want to get into bed and watch TV.

Guilt that you're not giving enough help to those who might need it; guilt when someone else spearheads a campaign to get a homeless bloke off the streets and you know you could have, but didn't - and probably won't - do it too.

Guilt that you're still single and don't mind too much, mixed with guilt that grandchildren probably aren't on the cards with your sister, so they probably should be with you - or that's the end of that family name, isn't it?

And then there's the overriding guilt that you're not doing enough for, or spending enough time with those who, sooner than you might think, might not be around any more.

The latter is something that bothers me a lot, and has done for a while - but most noticeably since my auntie and uncle (both unexpectedly in their 40s), my granddad, grandma and my mum's best friend all passed away in frighteningly quick succession a few years ago - because you know how quickly it can happen.

More than that, it now regularly dawns on me that my parents are getting older, and how utterly lost I'd be if they weren't around.

Yet even knowing this, the guilt when I snap, or get frustrated, or do an irritated sigh seems to far outweigh the efforts I make to be appreciative and kind.

Despite trying to be patient, to call home, to visit and help in the small ways I can - the balance of real life, a bad night's sleep or a grumpy morning sometimes tips me the other way. And I'm aware of it every single time.

All that, and then this week's argument - a ridiculous, familiar one my mother and I have had for months now, this time with the addition of an unnecessary comment, designed to make me feel guilty.

"I was saying to someone earlier," she'd said with a strange, casual laugh, as I stood outside the gym finishing a call which had ended, once again, with me frustrated and listing the reasons why it would not be appropriate for my 64 year old mother to come on holiday with me, my sister and our friends, something everyone but her seemed to understand - "what it is I've done that makes you both hate me so much that you don't want to be anywhere near me."

For the first time in a long while, guilt was replaced by anger, tears and complete incomprehension. The line was crossed, and I flipped.

Enough of this.

Realising the reaction was not, perhaps, what she'd intended, my mother apologised. The argument was resolved, the words taken back, "I didn't mean it", she said.

The anger stuck around for an hour or three, then simmered down as I lay in bed, thinking about it all, and gradually realising that this time I was feeling guilty for feeling so angry.

Oh, give me a break, I thought, just once.

Before slowly, exhausted by my own mind, I drifted off to sleep.


nuttycow said...

Oh I can totally relate to this! My mother constantly says things like "I don't know why you love your father so much and hate me". Or, "I know, I'm the worst person in the world" - it drives me NUTS!

The realisation of your parents' mortality is not something you're on your own with either. I think we all reach a certain age where we realise that our parents aren't quite as spry as they used to be. There's nothing we can do to stop this, but I think the realisation that a quick note every now and then, a phone call, a visit home, is appreciated.

The Big Duck said...

Well I am a 64 year old father and I criticise your mother. Just as you as children only grow up,when you realise your parents are people, not providers, so parents only establish truly bonding relationships with their adult children when they respect their right to live separate lives, and see you because they want to because they have to. I regularly fail,in this, especially since the birth of my beloved granddaughter who I want to be with all the time, but I pull it off mostly and know I have to aspire to this.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

nutty cow - Ah yes, that's the other guilt I get - if I spend too much time talking internet stuff with my dad, or even ask to speak to him on the phone (and just him), my mum gets a bit funny about it - always seems to be asking for the phone to be handed over. I know I shouldn't feel guilty about getting on well with my dad.

Big Duck - Very interesting to hear that side of the story - growing up I'd always hoped that I'd finally be on the same page as my mum and be able to understand her more, but at the moment, I understand her less (and feel bad about that).

fwengebola said...

Are we related?

Don't feel bad about feeling guilty. I do it in spades, particularly worrying, and during an incredible spell of dieting in 2011 where some switch was flicked and I dropped stones of weight, I literally started to worry that I'd have nothing left to worry about to anchor me.

And don't feel bad about thinking of loved ones not being around 'one day'. It's a natural thought as everyone ages. Easier said than done mind you, then they die and the immediate kick in the teeth turns to a strange kind of relief that you no longer have to worry about them dying, as they've died.

Then you feel guilty about that.


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