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Dealing With The Sense Of Guilt After The Death Of A Loved One


My husband was in a car crash two weeks ago. The call from the hospital confirmed the sinister feeling I had had since that morning.

Ever seen the sunrise? Beautiful in its cheery hues of orange and pink slowly spreading over the eastern sky. That morning, the sun rose, white and glaring. As if I had done something to anger it. The sun’s angry stare pierced through me, burning everything inside of me.

And then, the phone rang.

woman crying

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As I blinked away tears, a memory I had, for years, stashed off in a locked corner of my brain, flashed through my mind. I picked the keys lying on the counter and darted out. The one-hour drive to the hospital was a blur of traffic behind my welling eyes.

As I entered the hospital, the smell of disinfectant awakened the memory I didn’t want to revisit – echoes of those long ago hospital visits jarring my steps. Suddenly, forced to swim in the tide of the past, I forced myself through the corridor, like a tethered soldier making it to the front with every ounce of strength in his body.

Suggested read: A letter to my daughter on starting a new life

When I reached the ward my husband was in, I paused for a split second before going in. And there he was, right in the center of the bleach tinctured ward, wrapped in crisp, but thinning sheets. The place was clean and spotless, like dirt was an outlaw there – and yet, the clutter of IVs about my husband worried me.

‘Asleep; sedatives,’ the nurse said before leaving the ward and I sat down beside his bed, running my fingers on his palm, as if beseeching him to wake up, telling him that I was here and that he could get up and hug me now. It must have been a while before the nurse returned with the doctor.


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The doctor told me there wasn’t much cause for concern, except that his oxygen stats were dipping and we’d need to get some tests done before confirming the reason the patient’s chest heaved quicker than it should to draw in air. The patient, I thought. My husband, my life his patient.

The next four days were a whir of events – my husband’s condition worsened and became better, and then, worsened again in a cyclical pattern until his faint and momentary conscious babbling episodes were replaced by a longer conscious round of intense screaming, with a brief caesura of drawing in rasping breaths.

Suggested read: A letter to my daughter, from a father

Yes, a caesura, I say, coz I had, for lack of anything that could be more important to me in the world then, tried to make sense of his incoherent burble for the past four days. I felt certain he was trying to tell me something and I was determined to find out what it was. Of course, I hadn’t had any success and the sleep deprivation along with anxiety had brought on the worst of my migraines. The memories that I was forcing inside the cell they were trying to break free from weren’t helping the throbbing headache either.

As my husband’s condition deteriorated, those ‘unwelcome’ memories of the past kept crashing like stubborn waves at my heart-shore, forcing me to immerse myself in them.


‘Anna, get here soon. It’s important,’ my mom said. As I flew down to California, I pondered over the countless possibilities behind the panic in my mom’s voice. My mom is one of the most patient people on the planet and yet, there was something odd and unsettling about her tone. Something sinister, even.

As I got home, my mind knackered from all the ghastly scenarios I had built as possible explanations for the urgency and my body on the verge of giving up under the strain of pregnancy, I learnt it was dad. Dad was fighting cancer – stomach cancer. I had no time to feel anger for being kept away from the truth for over two years – I wanted to see dad.


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My father has been a fighter – from the very days he’d taught me to get up and start to walk on my chubby and wobbly one-year-old legs, again to the times he pushed me to become a doctor when I had given up. Guess it came from his own struggle to become ‘something’ in America, the shiny, princess-cut symbol of hope! So, a part of me – who was his proud fighter daughter – didn’t want to give up.

As I got to the hospital and spent the next four hours poring through details of all the surgeries, chemo treatments, innumerable tests, and the medicines, I sank deeper and deeper into misery. I realized that cancer had clung to my dad like a f**king ba***rd of an uninvited guest, who makes mischief like none other. Not only did he make room in my dad’s tummy but took up the space of over 70 lymph nodes, extending his bag and baggage to occupy the spine and even the ribs. He made my dad’s body his personal party-house – spewing his venomous puke of hangovers all over. And it was too late to kill him with any cocktail that my medical brethren or I could inject.

Mustering all the courage in my body, big with another life, I reached the ICU. Watching him lie there, not getting up to swoop me with a warm, enveloping embrace felt weird. Felt wrong. This can’t be happening, I thought. I can’t let this happen. I couldn’t let my father slip away. The best father in the world. I couldn’t not have my soon-to-be born child not have a grandpa. The best grandpa in the world.

father and baby2

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I decided to give it one more try. After some torturous hours at the hospital, a reluctant meal (that I owed my unborn child) and some haggling with the authorities, I was allowed to perform an operation that I thought would extend the ‘time’ the doctors were lumping on my loved ones.

The next few hours in the OT were the worst. Numb at first, I was unable to see or feel anything around me. As a mist enveloped me, I took a few silent steps to the figure of my father – my being drenched in fear and everything else fading into an abyss. The operation lasted over five hours.

When my father recovered consciousness and asked to see me, I didn’t know if I had the courage. I have only seen my Pa as a chirpy, old soul, and didn’t know how I could talk to him when he lay there, perhaps, defeated, perhaps not, willing me to ‘be strong.’ I couldn’t be. I just couldn’t be. When I did see him, my eyes struggling to meet his, his body giving away the pain it was writhing under, but his face lined with a faint trace of the smile I remembered, I knew this was it. Paralyzed by fear, I felt my breath being taken. The next moment, he breathed his last as I managed a trembling ‘don’t leave me alone.’


‘Your husband is being shifted to the ICU,’ said the nurse, jolting me into the-then reality and I dragged myself out from the haunting memory. As they wheeled him in, I asked for a few moments with him. Standing there, I was shaking with fear. Taking his hand in mine, I told him what I had told my Pa years ago – ‘don’t leave me alone.’


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Suggested read: A letter from a daughter to her drunk dad

When the operation was over, the doctor gave me the first-of-its-kind perma-good news since the accident. As I struggled to wipe off tears streaming down my face, I spent the next few hours waiting anxiously for my husband to come around. It was only when he’d be with me that I’d feel alive again.

And alive, I did feel, in less than 24 hours. He was home within the next two days.


As I lay replaying the events in my head, I realized why the death of a loved one scares us the way it does and why the loss of a loved one impacts us the way it does.

For years, I had failed to recover from the death of my beloved Pa. It wasn’t just the death of a loved one that caused me to be in denial, keep it to myself, and fail to heal from it, but the active denial of confronting my emotions and attaining closure that caused me to give up my profession too.

woman sad

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I guess I felt guilty for his death – guilty that the profession he worked hard to bestow on me couldn’t redeem his life. I felt guilty that for all the hope he has taught me to see, I couldn’t keep the one that hooked my family from being realized. I felt so guilty that I lost the best Pa in the world that the consequent death of my unborn child moved me away from the barrage of ‘sorry for your loss’ messages, mails, and voicemails that flooded my life.

Nothing helped. Nothing could keep me from crying myself to sleep every single night even six years later. Steve, my husband, was wonderfully supportive – but it was my own grief. I had to process it.

Only, I couldn’t.

woman thinking

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The ‘stop crying, be strong for your family’ remarks made me pretend I was okay and that weakened me further. I grew increasingly distant from my own loved ones, and sometimes, relapsed into such a dire state of denial that I’d refuse to revisit those tangible conduits to my best memories with my family, the celluloid stills with Pa, for fear that this pain would make those memories worn, sun-bleached or damaged. In the process, I not only denied his death and locked away the good memories along with the trauma of losing my loved Pa, but also locked myself in an emotional dungeon, disallowing anyone to ‘be there’ for me.

In refusing myself grieving for his death, I prevented myself from celebrating his life too.

I wonder if all people do that? If they retreat into a dark cavern inaccessible to others too and grow out of a ticking clock that allows them a ‘reasonable’ span to get over the death of a loved one.

Suggested read: I was 19 when I chose to terminate my pregnancy

Being faced by the prospect of losing my husband, I guess I had to make my way into the light. And as I pushed myself out of the dark dungeon of my yesteryears, I stumbled across things I had refused to acknowledge the presence of, thereby, bringing their pain, their grief, and their recollection of ‘happy’ along with me to the person I love the most.


Today, as that therapeutic episode forces me to write and purge my feelings of guilt further, I find myself being vulnerable in my hubby’s arms again. I speak to him of my childhood memories with Pa and find him recounting instances of losing his loved ones. The loss of a loved one and the grief thereof binds us together, and in sharing our pain, we find our peace.

I hope I will find the strength to speak to Ma about it the way I should have – soon.

woman smiling

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And that, by bringing alive the part of me that died with Pa, I will find a way to live with him again. To make him live in me again.

Until then, I will just leave you with this – all of us have a different way of dealing with pain especially coping with the death of a loved one. And there’s no deadline. When you start to heal and how, is up to you. So, when you are ready, get out there and take a chance on yourself to find peace – past the pain.

Article Name
Death Of A Loved One: Dealing With The Sense Of Guilt
The death of a loved one makes a part of you die too. But could you give the part in you a chance to breathe again so your loved one lives on in you?
Sejal Parikh

Sejal Parikh

"I'm a hurricane of words but YOU can choose the damage I do to you..."