Dirty dishes

Images of dirty dishes are my personal "thoughtworm" right now. A thoughtworm is a word I made up. It is like an "earworm," which is an annoying song that gets stuck in your head. (An earworm was featured in the fantastic mountaineering movie, Touching the Void.)

I keep thinking about how I never washed the dishes as soon as they got dirty, even though Doug wanted me to. (He didn't ask for much.) I let them pile up for a whole day first. Sometimes I outlasted him, and he did them himself, even though he already did so much else around the house.

BTW, this is NOT a picture of my own kitchen sink. It never got quite that bad.

When someone dies, how does one live with the guilt of things that cannot be undone? I need to know.

I suppose your typical socio/psychopaths like Jeffrey Dahmer don't feel bad about what they did (e.g., in his case, eating people.) However, I expect that anyone with a conscience will feel some degree of guilt at some point.

We are human. We are not perfect (thank you again Riley [8 year old wise soul], for reminding me of this.) We don't behave perfectly all the time. We make mistakes. We do things that are wrong. We don't do things that we should have - things that could have made a difference. We hurt other people.

When someone dies, survivors are left with the realization that it is too late to fix anything with the departed person who was on the receiving end of whatever we did that was NOT perfect. You can't change what you did in the past. If you didn't tell them you were sorry when they were alive, it's too late now. If you mend your ways, others in your life may benefit. The person you lost will never will. How does one come to terms with that?

Some guilt associated with death must be nearly unbearable. For example:

  • doing something that directly caused a death, such as driving drunk and killing someone
  • doing something that apparently triggered a suicide (like telling your spouse you are leaving them.)
  • having a terrible fight the last time you see someone.

I guess in comparison, the things that I feel guilty about are relatively trivial. (See wishes and regrets). Here are the main ones.

I was not a very good housewife. I am pretty lazy when it comes to chores like doing dishes and cleaning the cat box. Doug was working full time and trying to maintain and restore This Old House. I didn't do enough to lighten his load.

Then I actually increased Doug's burden by purchasing rental properties. I was too frugal sometimes. I asked him to do things himself that I could have paid someone to do. This was part of my financial strategy to save for retirement. He never got to retire.

Unlike me, Doug was a fantastic "roommate." He did about 90% of the work around the house. I paid the cleaning person. I appreciated everything he did, but that's not enough. There were many things I could have done to help. I could have done some of his chores to free him up and give him some more time to do things he enjoyed. Now that I have to do it all myself, I feel this guilt every day

The other thing I feel a lot of guilt are the harsh words to him when I got annoyed. Sometimes the things that bugged me that were clearly insignificant. Occasionally they were important things - like being safe. I can never take those words back. How do I live with that?


These are the only options I've come up with so far. In some ways, this website is an exercise for me. It helps me sort out the squirrels swirling around in my head, as I go through the grieving process. I am trying come out whole and healthy on the other end.

  • If you believe you can speak to the dead, I guess you CAN tell them you're sorry. Write it down on a piece of paper, write that you're sorry and burn it? The Chinese think the smoke from incense being burned carries their thoughts/wishes heavenward. If you believe they are watching over you, then they might see that you have mended your ways.

    Unfortunately these beliefs don't work for me. All I know is that I can't "fix" this - I can't take any of it back or do it over.

    Maybe the only thing I CAN do along those lines is this website. Maybe it will prompt people to reconsider their own actions and do something differently. It's too late for Doug & I. Maybe it's not too late for you.

  • Ruminate on it endlessly and drive yourself crazy? Obviously not a good option. See more on alternative coping strategies.

  • Treat yourself like your best friend. What would you tell them to do? How would you help them gain a more balanced perspective?

  • Just say "It is what it is" and let it go? You know you can't change it or control it. Unfortunately I don't know how to do this. I wish I did.

  • Forgive yourself. Not sure how to do this either right now.

  • Focus instead on the things I did RIGHT? Like the fact that I loved Doug with my whole heart. That I made him happy most of the time. And other stuff I DON'T regret. More.

    This one was my mom's suggestion. I had a faucet-face conversation with her about this yesterday.

    She says I am expecting too much of myself. It is simply too soon.

    I guess I have to process all this "stuff" before I can move on to the next step. I can tell you it's not much fun. But maybe I will grow and become a better person in the end. I just wish Doug could be the beneficiary.


Treat yourself with the same kind of love, respect, and patience that you would offer to a friend, and listen to yourself.
- Laynee Gilbert, from I Remember You: A Grief Journal


Even though there are days I wish I could change some things that happened in the past, there's a reason the rear view mirror is so small and the windshield is so big. Where you're headed is much more important than what you've left behind.
~ poster



©2010. Designed by Chimalis LLC