Grief & Guilt: Out of town when death occurred

Grief comes in all shapes and sizes and is different for each of us.  It is even different for us each time we lose a loved one.

Candle for Geroge Spear | Hansen-Spear Funeral Home - Quincy, ILI was in Tallinn, Estonia visiting family and friends a few weeks ago when my grandfather (Papa George) died.  He had been hospitalized just short of a week when we left town.  We had delayed packing and were uncertain about going on our trip, but Papa George had a really good day that Monday and encouraged us to go.  He said, “Have a good time.  Enjoy it.  Say ‘Hi’ to Kristjan for me.”  We had a nice visit with him and left for St. Louis to fly to Estonia.

On our first morning in Estonia, we received the news that Papa George had died.  It was 2 o’clock in the morning in Quincy and my parents and uncle were up visiting, so I learned that he died peacefully in the hospital.  His big heart finally gave out.

Funeral plans were made for after our trip so we could be present; however, my absence at the time of his death, even though he encouraged us to go, left me feeling guilty.  I was not there for him or with him.  I was not there for my family.  I was not there to take care of arrangements…

I know that there is nothing I could have done that my family did not do for him.  I knew that he wanted me to go on this trip and have fun, but the guilt was still there in the background.  I was thinking about not really saying goodbye, not being there with him one last time, all of these things weighed me down.

I personally, felt my load lighten when I light a candle and said a prayer for Papa George at St. Issac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia.  I did not say “goodbye” to him, but I did say “farewell, see you soon” and I will see him again one day.

My grief remains, but my guilt about not being with him is gone.

One Response to Grief & Guilt: Out of town when death occurred

  1. Mecki Kosin says:

    Will, I totally understand! Both my parents, and many relatives, died without me being there. I am the only one in the US, while everyone else is in Germany! In the beginning of my life here, my mom would let me know by mail after the funeral – so I learned of grandparents’ deaths about two weeks after the fact – I understand your feelings of guilt… My youngest sister’s husband died on my birthday – talk about guilt there, even though it had nothing to do with me – and as with many others, I did not have the money to fly home. My father died 15 years ago, and I flew home right after I had the call – and when my mother died last year, I was on the way there – she died around 3 AM, and I landed at 7 AM. Often I felt that I should perhaps not have left to move to the US, but then, when I get over that part of my grief, I can feel good about following my heart 41 years ago. I could not have changed anything if I had lived next door. And yes, I am sure I could have found something to feel guilty about in each case….
    At any rate, I am glad that you went on your trip! Estonia is such a beautiful place – I was in Tallinn just a couple of years ago – I am glad you had the beauty of your surroundings, and a place of worship available, where you could light a candle.
    I remember your grandfather well – he will be missed by many!

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