The Challenge of Self Forgiveness

It can be so hard to stop blaming and punishing yourself

Photo by Tolga Ulkan on Unsplash

I am struggling, and have been for some time now. 

I had two kitties for 17 years. And two weeks after I retired, which was over two years ago, one of them, Rocky, got sick. It was the time of having to wait outside the emergency vet hospital all night, without being able to be with your pet. The pandemic added to the pain and fear.

The vets kept telling me that Rocky was very sick. But, when I did finally get to see him the next morning, he didn’t look nearly as sick as I thought he might. I was tired from being up all night outside, still reacting to retirement, still in a state of shock about it all, about everything in my life feeling like it had turned upside down. 

I allowed them to convince me that we had to put him down. I will always regret that. And, 6 months later, my second kitty, Rusty, succumbed to the cancer that I believe grew out of his deep grief for the loss of his companion of 17 years. 

I felt like I lost everything. Those two kitties had been my heart, my connection to touch, to a love that only an animal can bring to your life. Not having been in a relationship for a while, they were my lifeline to a deep connection that was always there with me. Even in the wee hours of the morning, those hours that can bring a unique kind of aloneness to your soul. 

I blame myself still. I wish I had brought Rocky home and just watched him for a bit. Taken him to the regular vet for more help and another opinion. But, I did not. I gave in to the authority of these emergency vets who did not know Rocky. Did not know his resilience. Did not know. And I feel like I knew differently, but let myself be convinced otherwise.

I have been taught early on to give up my power to authority. My parents were immigrants and old school, and I felt no power or voice in the family. Being the only child, I learned to do what I perceived that I had to in order to survive. Lay low. Don’t rebel, as it will only make matters worse.

I learned that lesson all too well. I have spent much of my life trying to please others, which of course, never really works. 

I am working on reclaiming my voice, finally. But, not in time for Rocky. Not in time. 

Not in time for my mother. 

The oncologist put my mother on hospice when she refused treatment for her breast cancer. The doctor thought that she would have much more time than the 6 months that hospice usually allows (and they do make extensions as needed, I know). She died three months later. 

Hospice had been generous with the morphine, I believe. And I did not intercede enough to advocate to make sure that they weren’t over medicating her. Although she spoke English fairly well, it was not her first language. Did they really assess her pain correctly? She was in assisted living at that point, close to where I was working, so I could visit frequently. But, I now feel that I wasn’t as involved in conversations with hospice as I could have and should have been. The “coulda shoulda woulda” syndrome.

It frustrates me how I can easily give up my power, my agency, my voice. How compliant I have been and can still be in times of crisis when my defenses are low. 

And the pain of loss is made deeper still by the regrets and remorse. 

So this then is the challenge. How to forgive myself. How to allow the pain of the grief, but not heap on more with the added burden of regret and self recrimination. 

I am working on it. I write. I paint. I am finding my way back to my voice that was quieted so early on. I am showing up more. 

I cannot go back and change what happened. And I cannot go on whipping myself with the regret and self blame. So, I pray. And I sit quietly and breathe. And I cry, with what seem to be tears that have no end. 

The challenge is to know that I did the best that I could, given the resources that I had at the time, including internal resources that were very stretched. I did love, and I did not fight as much as I could have. And I need to forgive myself, or I will also then give up on myself and living my own best life. Letting go of all this is hard. Hanging onto it is beginning to feel even harder. 

We are imperfect human beings, struggling at times to do what we can. We make mistakes. We don’t always make the best choice. We fall short of our best. 

We need to forgive and keep living, move on. to have compassion for ourselves and our past selves. Because we are still alive, still here. And maybe, just maybe, we can learn. And by accepting our imperfections and faults and really look at the lessons they bring, maybe we can also learn to do better. 

6 thoughts on “The Challenge of Self Forgiveness

  1. Jo I share what you are feeling. I don’t think it is possible to be human and not empathize with the heartfelt emotions you have expressed so eloquently. I was holding my mom’s hand when she died in hospice care in 2000, a hospital bed set up for her in our living room. In the end I tried to give her some flakes of ice, in a spoon to her lips, anything to try to hydrate her, prolong her life for just a bit more. But Alzheimer’s disease had robbed her of the perceived need and the ability to swallow. I failed. She passed away as I watched her. Instead of caring for her personally, as we could have done, we had moved her to an assisted living facility about six years prior to her death. I cried then. And still do. My wife and I could have done more for her. But it is now too late to remedy my failure to perhaps do more and better than I did for her.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The challenge is to know that I did the best that I could, given the resources that I had at the time, including internal resources that were very stretched.” You did do what you thought was best based on what you knew at that time. Hindsight is 20-20, yes, but hindsight can also be blind. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we could have done more when in fact we did all we could. My brother-in-law, and I, torture ourselves about what we should have done for his wife/my sister before she died. But we really don’t know that we could have done more. I can definitely say that my BIL did all he could do.

    With cats, it’s the same dilemma. Maybe Rocky would have lived a little longer, but with what quality of life? When I think back on our Maxine, those extra couple of months we got for her by giving her shots and fluids were an illusion. We just didn’t want to let go even though Max was clearly unhappy and uncomfortable. For you, the difference will be when you open your heart to a new furry companion and you will remember Rocky and be more prepared the next time around. But every companion is different.

    Let yourself feel sad, even guilty although you are not guilty. Better to face your feelings than try to store them away in a box under the bed.

    Liked by 1 person

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