when relief brings guilt

This past Sunday, my pastor made a profound statement
{{although, listening through my ears, it sounded more like an admission}}.
He was talking about losing a terminally-ill family member, and he said,
"...you feel relief.  Of course, you feel relief."

I've never heard anyone say that out loud before.
Maybe I've been absent.
Maybe I wasn't listening.
Or maybe...
Maybe no one ever says it out loud.

Because it feels wrong somehow.
It sounds wrong.
No one will understand.
I should feel sad.
I should be devastated.
I should feel heart-broken.
I should NOT feel relieved.

I remember, several years ago, after Mom had been re-diagnosed with cancer...cancer that had been in remission for twelve years...cancer that had returned...breast cancer metastasized into the bone.
I remember having a conversation with one of my close friends.
A conversation where I told her how tired I was.
Not lack-of-sleep tired.
Not I've-worked-too-hard-for-too-long tired.
I was tired of waiting.
Tired of knowing what,
tired of knowing how,
tired of not knowing when.

I remember telling her that living with a terminally-ill loved one
is akin to living in a small cell with an axe hanging above your head.
The axe is suspended on a thin, fraying cord.
You know the axe is going to fall.
It's inevitable.
It will happen.
And when it falls, as it certainly shall, it will hurt.
It will hurt immensely.
Quite possibly more than anything has ever hurt before.

But some days, you long for the axe to fall.
You know it's going to hurt so bad.
But you just want to get the hurt over with.
Because the only thing worse than the pain
is the anxious worry, fretting, dreading,
the axe will fall.

Yes, I said that to her.
I said all of that to her 
while my mom was carrying terminal cancer.
And I remember the guilt I felt in saying those words...
in even thinking those thoughts.

And I remember how much it really did hurt when Mom passed to Heaven.
The pain was incredible.
The pain is incredible.

But there was also relief.
And guilt that came with the relief.
Because, again, I was supposed to feel pain...
and heart-break...and loss.
That was not in the supposed-to-feel category.

And then my pastor said that on Sunday.
And though he's "just" my pastor...
And though he doesn't absolve my sins...
And though he's flesh and blood, just like me...
somehow after all these years,
I feel like relief is ok.

He didn't say any magic words.
He didn't need to.
All he needed to do was acknowledge that it is
That this IS how it feels.

So, that's the gift I'm giving to you today.
I don't know who "you" are.
My blog readership is small enough...
it may be that this post doesn't apply to any of my readers.
And if that's the case, that's ok.

I just wanted to be for you
what my pastor was for me.
I wanted to be the voice that says,
"It's ok."
"It's normal."
"You can feel relieved."


  1. This is a beautiful post, Erin.
    While I have not had to deal with a terminally ill relative, I can understand where you are coming from. (my mom did fight breast cancer 9 years ago...and both of my aunts died from cancer...one, much in the same way as your mom)
    Thank you for sharing so openly.
    This post helped somebody today...or somebody in the future.

  2. I came over from Blissididoodah (I hope I spelled that right!)

    That was such a great post! I helped with my FIL when he was dying of lung cancer and at the very end I was the only one who would give him morphine....when he died I thought I had killed him and felt enormous guilt even though the hospice nurse assured me I hadn't . But I did feel relief. It is so. hard. to. watch. someone. you. love. suffer! I think when we realize that heaven is waiting, it is more of a relief.

  3. Hi Erin ~ I came from Blissitydoodah's blog too, and I'm so glad I did. I lost my mom to ovarian cancer this past October, and I could have written almost the exact post! I HATED the waiting, the not knowing how much longer my mom would suffer, how much more she could take, how much more we all could take. I've struggled with the relief I felt after she was gone, and it's always nice to know someone else feels the same way. I'm sorry about your mom, but glad to know that your pastor's words gave you some peace.

  4. Erin,
    Your blog came at the perfect time. One of my dear friends passed away last week from a terminal illness. Her daughter is also a very good friend of mine. The memorial service is tomorrow, and I have printed this out to take to her. I know it will help her deal with the pain.
    Thank you for posting this. I'm sure it has helped many more people than us who have commented.
    God Bless,


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