Climbing the Guilt Wall


I've been a widow for six years now. You would think that after all of that time and the encouragement to not feel guilty about my husband would have sunk in by now. It hasn't. Not completely.


Recently, I heard about a friend of a friend who had to turn off a respirator for her son who had been battling terminal cancer. I felt bad for her, and for him. He fought cancer for two years but it clearly became too much. They decided that he was struggling too much and let him go.


That’s a tough decision to make, but I can tell you it goes much deeper than that.


What people don't realize about having to stop life-extending or -saving measures for their loved one is not just about the person dying. it's the thoughts that crawl into your brain after you've made the decision and everything is all over. Should I have given him more time to recover? Would he have recovered? Since Tony was no longer talking or really lucid that last day I couldn't ask him what he wanted. We had talked about it years before when my dad died and we'd already decided that machines were not the answer to life.


So yes, we had had that conversation, in part. But when you make a momentous and life-changing decision like that you don't just want to be the only one making it. You need to hear that someone else is okay with it. I needed to know that he was okay with it. I don’t know that he was.


Tony was fighting sepsis. For those last four days of his life, the medical professionals filled his body with drugs and kept him hooked to machines in order to help that body fight the infections ravaging him. Everything they did just seems to keep the scales balanced - nothing really helped him get better. The more they did, the more I cringed because he seemed to just be sinking. Over the previous three years of his illness, I made sure that they threw everything but the kitchen sink at him to make him better. Those things seemed to work. What they were doing at that point was not.


Thinking back, there came a moment of clarity, a moment where I just didn’t want to hear “Mrs. Barnes, we’re trying this next because that isn’t working” again. I felt that moment in my soul. Inside that moment, enough was enough. I didn’t feel anything else in that moment. We would stop all the tubes, lines, and wires and see how Tony felt about that.


In that moment, inside my head, I said, “Okay, Tony’s strong. He doesn’t need all of this. It’s not helping anyway. So let’s turn it all off and see what he wants.” With a trembling hand, I signed the papers they shoved under my nose about not resuscitating him.


Once the machines measuring his breaths and heart rates stopping finding anything to measure, the room grew still. Taking her eyes off of the now silent monitor the nurse laid her fingers on his neck to feel a pulse, looked at me, and silently shook her head. Right then, the moment changed.


At that moment...I was no longer sure that was what he wanted. My confidence in what I thought I knew left me the moment my husband’s spirit left his body.


The guilt began to creep into my heart. That’s a lie. Creeping doesn’t describe it at all. The guilt starting building a wall around my heart, big, heavy bricks of guilt. The guilt became as heavy as t