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Grappling with Your Guilt So You Can Grieve

Category: 

Grieving Process

Posted On: Jan 05, 2017

Grappling with Your Guilt So You Can Grieve

The guilt you feel after someone you love passes away is completely natural, but it's a complicated and confusing emotion that manifests differently for each individual. It's not uncommon to have survivor's guilt, nor is it uncommon for end-of-life caregivers to feel guilt at the end of the journey. It's a sad fact that grief and guilt often go hand-in-hand because the latter significantly sharpens and prolongs the former, but there are ways you can deal with and move past the guilt.

Accept the Support You Need

Offers of help come from all angles after the death of a loved one. The people who offer condolences and messages of support will all mean well, but you won't feel comfortable enough to share your feelings of guilt with all of them. Pinpoint the help you need and seek out the support that makes you feel better—or at least less guilty. Grief groups, one-on-one counseling, conversations with a close friend, spiritual guidance—there are endless options.

Take a Break for Self-Care

The need to get away for a while is also common after a death and it, too, can make you feel guilty. Don't let it. There's nothing wrong with taking a break. Some grief counselors advise against the desire to “flee the scene,” but this is not that. Take a weekend, even a week, and get your bearings. Give yourself time to pick apart your feelings and vent them by yourself. Give a voice to your anger, sadness, hurt, and depression, and your guilt may soon go away, as well.

Identify Why You Feel Guilty

What would you change if you had the opportunity? When you're blaming or berating yourself in your head, of what transgressions do you accuse yourself? Write down all the statements you think that are in any way related to your guilt. This helps you to pinpoint the exact nature of your guilt, which is essential, but it will also allow you to see the crimes you think you've committed, so to speak, written in black and white.

Admit Your Expectations

After identifying the reasons for your guilt, start a new page. Write down all the things you expected of yourself. Be honest. Include all of the things you think you're guilty of not doing. Of all your expectations of yourself, how many were within your control? What kept you from doing the things within your power? Write down all the reasons, being as truthful as possible. Whittling down your guilt to its finest essence, to the specific things you regret, is tremendously helpful in the journey to get past these feelings.

Focus on the Positive

What did you do to make your loved one feel comfortable, safe, and cared for at the end of his or her time? What wonderful things did you share throughout his or her life? Focus on all the memorable, lovely, special things—they all matter. 

Make Amends Where You Can

There is only so much you can do with your guilt because your loved one is now gone. It's important to forgive yourself, but there are still ways to make amends. You could volunteer time or money, donate to a charity in memory of your loved one, bring awareness to a cause, or simply do good in your day to day life when the opportunity presents itself.

Death is never easy, whether it is sudden or a longer process. Guilt is not only common, but it takes many shapes. Getting over it is a personal journey, and it isn't always easy, but it will pass if you actively work toward understanding it and forgiving yourself.