Grief and guilt sometimes go hand in hand.
We found this story and rewrote it a bit, wanting to provide a moment of soothing validation and even a little bit of hope for anyone dealing with an unimaginable loss and is experiencing unrelenting guilt.
Guilt can get distorted and become a distraction when we face a major loss.
This particular story is about a parent’s loss of a child. The parable works with any of our losses, whether it’s your partner, spouse, father, mother, sister, dear friend, etc. I hope you find a moment of peace as you read it and access to releasing any guilt that may linger.
Grief and Guilt
A man lost his son and couldn’t bear the thought of living without him. He was in deep pain, grief and intense suffering. The dad couldn’t believe his son was gone. He cried day and night, missing his son, wishing things were different.
Even though there was nothing he could have done to save his son, he was overwhelmed with debilitating guilt.
He couldn’t sleep and hadn’t slept in a long time.
One night a wise medicine woman came to him in a dream and told him “Your child is safe, happy and lovingly being taken care of.”
The dad told him “The grief I feel is bottomless. The guilt is unbearable. I am never going to see my precious son again.”
The wise medicine woman man said, “Do you want to see him again?”
The dad says “Yes, of course.”
The medicine woman takes him by the hand to the entrance of something called “The Happy Hunting Grounds.”
He sees many little, beautiful children, so happy and innocent, carrying eagle feathers into the Happy Hunting Grounds, smiling and laughing and just so full of joy.
The dad asks “Where is my son? Who are these children?”
The medicine woman said, “These are the children that are called home early. They are innocent, deeply loved and they come straight here to The Happy Hunting Grounds.
The dad says “And my son? Where is he? Why isn’t he with these children?”
The medicine woman said, “Come this way” and guided him to the side of the entrance.
A small boy was calmly standing there watching all the children enter the Happy Hunting Grounds. He was standing within reach of an eagle’s feather.
His dad grabbed him and hugged him. The dad said, “Why don’t you have an eagle’s feather like the other children? Why are you waiting here at the entrance?”
The boy said “I keep trying to get the eagle feather Daddy, but your guilt pulls it out of reach. I know you miss me; I miss you, too. I can’t enter The Happy Hunting Grounds because I am tied to your feelings of guilt. You were the best father ever. I love you dearly. The guilt you feel is not yours and it isn’t real. You need to work on letting it go. That is why I am waiting here. I’m waiting for you to allow yourself to process the loss of me, without the burdensome guilt.”
The dad gently cried, realizing the guilt was just a distraction from the pain of the loss of his beautiful boy.
He told his son, “Get that eagle feather and go, I know you will be ok. I will, too. I’ll work on accepting my loss of you and releasing the paralyzing guilt.”
When the dad awoke from the dream, he lay in bed and cried. He cried for the enormity of his loss. He cried for what would never be. He cried for the unfairness of it. He cried for the experiences he would never have with his precious son. He cried for himself and the enormous guilt he felt. He cried and cried.
He realized that feeling guilty was optional, not a requirement.
As the weeks turned to months, the grief didn’t end, it did however, start to change.
Slowly and methodically, the grip of guilt was loosening. He was finding compassion for himself and fully embracing his life-altering loss. He started to forgive himself for not “saving” his son, something that he could not have done anyway. The guilt was fading.
Guilt, for him, was truly becoming optional.
When we have a tremendous loss like in this story, guilt paralyzes us in our attempts to process grief.
I shared this to remind us all that our journey is our journey. Period.
And maybe guilt is truly optional.