[Two Pronged] Blaming myself for my grandfather's death
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,
Not everyone will understand the feeling behind my thoughts, so I don’t share it with anyone. Stigma is everywhere.
Four years ago, we went to a hospital with my dying grandfather. He wasn't ready yet, everyone knew that. His life depended on oxygen, which needed pumping from time to time. He was admitted in a public hospital, so it lacked equipment. On his second night, I was told to stay overnight at hospital. Boastful, I didn't even listen to the nurse about what to do or what not to do.
I eventually got lost pumping, my arm and whole body felt numb. I thought the result wouldn't be that bad. I stopped, then returned, stopped, then returned.
Later that night, he had an attack, I could see his body shaking. My screaming woke up my cousin; he called the nurse but it was too late.
My grandfather died because of me. It was so hard. Everything did not sink in that early, I was guilty but I thought, everything is okay. Then my brother told me straight up: "You are the reason of his dying." He said many more things I don’t remember.
It was traumatic and tragic. I mean, would you want to be the reason of your love ones to die?
It's been 4 years; I'm still here. Still stuck with the fact that yep, I killed him. Unintentionally, but still irresponsibly.
Since then, I tried killing myself by overdosing with different kind of medicine and sleeping pills I've got. Sometimes I can't sleep for three days straight. It’s so hard. I don't know how to get back my sanity and my old self. I can no longer cry.
It gets harder each passing day. Time doesn't heal these wounds. I'm still blaming myself. Please help me.
It may help here to differentiate between fact and opinion. If I understand your account correctly, the facts are that your grandfather was admitted to hospital because he was dying and was only kept alive by an oxygen machine. This machine was manual and the hospital left its operation in the hands not of hospital personnel but untrained relatives of the patient.
Beyond this everything seems to be personal opinion. “He wasn't ready yet,” “You are the reason of his dying,” etc, appear unsubstantiated and non-medical statements. Add to this, when your grandfather had his attack, your cousin was sleeping.
Some of the things we do not know include: would your grandfather have had that attack and died anyway? Was the treatment prolonging his life in any way contributing to his wellbeing? Was his death actually a relief from his suffering?
Given this, it seems totally unreasonable to suggest you killed your grandfather. However, you have been laboring under the impression that his death is your fault for four years and a couple of paragraphs (even in this column!) will be insufficient to correct your view of events fully.
Instead, you need a mental health specialist to help you get things in their true perspective.
Wishing you the best of luck,
Thank you very much for your letter.
I feel Mr. Baer has given an accurate description of fact vs opinion, evidence vs supposition. It seems fairly clear that, despite your belief that you literally killed your grandfather, this may not necessarily have been the case.
However, you are depressed and this possibility alone—that you may have wrongly blamed yourself for something you were never really guilty of—is not enough to alleviate your depression. I think, even if it were not a mere possibility but the actual certainty that you had nothing to do with your grandfather’s death, you would still not get over your depression.
That is because depression is a mood — and not a thought — disorder. Thus, no matter how convinced you become of something (for example. “God, I’ve been punishing myself for something I didn’t cause after all!”) it may not matter at all, because this thought, this knowledge, will not help you get rid of your depression.
Whether you actually did or not is not as important now as getting help for your depression.
Dearest sweetest, Bel, I am so sorry about your grandfather’s death. I am sorry about how this has affected you all these years. I wish there was something more I could do than urging you to go seek help.
What you have gone through is not something this column can address adequately but I am certain that with the right psychiatrist/psychologist aided by the right medication (if needed) you can get through it. Many of us have, including myself.
I know this is difficult to believe, that things may change and you might actually feel a ray of hope once more if you try to get professional help. But please try, ok?
Think of it this way: If things get better, terrific! And if things don’t, you won’t be worse off than you are now. Small consolation, I know. But when one is depressed, sometimes small consolations are all one has… unless one finds somebody who can understand what one is going through and sticks it out with one no matter how long or how devastating this dark night of the soul lasts.
All the best,
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