Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My mother died before I could say goodbye

She was in a car crash, and we were fighting at the time. Now I'm finding it hard to forgive myself

Share

Dear Virginia,

I still cannot get over the terrible guilt I feel about not seeing my mother before she died last year. I loved her so much, and we had a stupid row – which we often did, I’m afraid – over a small thing and I refused to speak to her. This had gone on for 10 days and I was just about to ring her so things could be normal again when my sister rang and told me she’d been killed in a car crash. I go over and over those moments, and feel so terrible that she died thinking I was angry with her. I will never forgive myself. Can you offer any comfort?

Yours sincerely, Judy

 

Virginia says...

When our loved ones die, we often experience the strangest of emotions. Grief is, sadly, only one of them, and I’ve known people tormented because they feel, also, relief, rage, even pleasure – or, sometimes, just blankness. And it’s very common for bereaved people to feel guilt – that there is some blame attached to them. Usually they feel guilty because, even though the loved one may have been in great pain, 95 years old, longing to die and on a life-support machine, they didn’t do one thing that, they feel, could have helped him live longer.

In your case, since clearly there wasn’t anything you could have done to prevent your mother having a crash, you’re experiencing a feeling of guilt but have nowhere to put it. Aha! But yes you do! You had a row with your mother (something you often did over the years but always made it up) and failed to make it up quickly enough.  Wretched guilt has found a peg, a tenuous peg certainly, but a peg on which to  hang all the guilt that so many people  feel after a bereavement.

Looked at logically, there is of course no reason for guilt. Your mother could have rung you up first – have you thought of that? – but she didn’t. It was just as much her choice as yours to maintain the silence. Then you say this was a common occurrence. So there was no way your mother was, in the days running up to the car crash, thinking: “Oh dear, oh dear, will I ever see my daughter again? She hates me!” No, she was thinking: “Here we go again. Better wait till I get the usual phone call. Ho hum.” Then you say you loved your mother very much. She loved you. And minor scenes were all part of your relationship. Perhaps you couldn’t have loved her – nor her you – without these minor blow-ups now and again.

But that’s the logical side. The illogical side – the feeling that part of the reason this bereavement is so terrible is something to do with you, your fault – is because most of us, understandably, find it very difficult to believe that such terrible things, such as death, can happen. Surely, we feel, if there were a way in which we could take responsibility for just some part of the misery, wouldn’t that make it a little bit easier to bear than to realise this horror could just descend out of the blue? Easier sometimes to feel a little bit in control – that some of the pain is our fault – than to realise we’re simply powerless over it.

I do hope, dear Judy, these thoughts  have helped.

Readers say...

Remember the good things, too

I was saddened to hear of your loss and feel I can offer some empathy. My 11-year-old daughter died from a heart attack, very suddenly and unexpectedly, earlier this year while she was away on a school trip. I, too, felt great guilt because I wasn’t there with her when it happened and have spent many hours wondering about her last hours without me or her mum.

It is imperative to remember your relationship as a whole and not what happened in those last few days, because it is unlikely the argument was relevant to her. She didn’t die thinking you were angry with her, she died knowing you “loved her so much”. 

You can make the assumption that she would not have wanted you to grieve for too long, or too deeply or with guilt. And it is fair to say you should aim to have her assumed wish fulfilled. As the one left behind, you must remember that your grief is essentially about your emotion. You will, therefore, eventually have mastery and control over these emotions and feel more at peace.

It takes time to see the greater picture – the loving, normal, life-long relationship you had together with its disagreements and bickering – and its relevance will far outweigh what was a genuinely minor incident. It sounds as if you and your mother had enough love for a lifetime. So remember that.

Ben, by email

She knew you loved her

Grief and guilt make a painful combination that’s hard to shake off, but please don’t torture yourself any more. I’m sure your mother was in no doubt you loved her, despite the little spat you’d had: such disagreements happen in every family. It’s time to stop dwelling on the negative. Remember all that she did to make you the person you are, and the happiness you shared together. Regard this experience as a final gift from her, one that teaches you to enjoy each day and settle differences with your loved ones as quickly as possible, because none of us knows what lies ahead.

Jessie Bartholomew, Grangemouth

Honour her memory

Judy, these two issues are separate and should not be conflated. Loss is a terrible thing no matter what the circumstance, and you should allow yourself to grieve. Your mother’s accident was not caused by the argument. Most of the time our relationships are conducted on an expectation of life, not death. You had a tiff. Guilt is not necessary. Honour the memory of your mother as she deserves. 

Alan, by email

Next week's dilemma

My friend and I were in and out of each other’s houses as children. We stayed in touch and last year she had very bad cystitis, which wouldn’t go away. Eventually her doctor suggested a therapist. Now she’s remembered all kinds of child abuse through flashbacks. I just can’t believe it – she seemed such a happy child. Her dad was incapable of doing anything like this – he’s lovely and I was often alone with him. But she refuses to talk to him now. Her mother’s been on the phone to me, crying and begging me to ask her if they can meet. What should I do?

Yours sincerely,

Amy 

What would you advise Amy to do?  Write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a £25  wine voucher from thewinecompany.co.uk (twitter.com/thewineco).

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee