30 September

Morning Prayers. Grief and Guilt

by Jon Katz
Morning Prayers: Grief and Guilt

Researching “Going Home” I was increasingly intrigued by the guilt I saw and heard when people talk about their lost pets. They should have acted sooner. They acted too soon. They waited too long. They did too little. They did too much. They spent too little. They spent too much.

Guild is an odd and useless emotion to me, and I wrote about it a good deal in “Going Home.” It’s useful to remember that animals don’t feel guilt, and don’t blame other animals for their troubles. They don’t have regrets and recriminations. This is a human construct, and much as we love to put it on our pets, there is no evidence they feel our many neurotic emotions. I fully understand the profound sadness many of us feel when we lost the animals we love. But guilt? I don’t quite get it.

It’s interesting when I hear these guilt stories, because almost all of them are blatantly and obviously untrue. The people who feel guilt are the ones who love their animals the most and worry about them the most. People who mistreat their animals rarely feel guilt about it. I love the Biblical Story of the man who went before God and begged for mercy. “I am not worthy,” he said.

God looked down on him and smiled.”You are enough.” It’s a good story to think about when you feel guilty, I think.

We are enough. Most of us do enough, do the best we can, and usually, that’s pretty good. It’s all we can do. I am learning to drop old fears and troublesome ways of thinking. Dropping guilt is an elemental step towards grieving that is meaningful and sometimes even joyous, rather than tangling the animals and our memories of them up in all this very human baggage. Lucky for them, they are not like us.

I believe that sadness is essential to grief, healthy and cleansing. Guilt is a symptom and disorder,  a close cousin of anxiety and depression, not something that is grounded in real life. It depends on a willing human participant to survive. If you ignore it, drop it, walk away, it will shrivel up and die, like many kinds of fear. Guilt isn’t truthful. It doesn’t help anyone or anything, not you, not the dog or cat or horse or chicken. It has no purpose other than to shower the glorious human-animal bond with misery. Maybe try this: Just drop it.

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