A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

How to Get Rid of Feelings of Guilt Following a Loss

Are you lugging around feelings of guilt about someone important to you who died? 
Are those feelings hanging around long after you—and others who care about you—think they should be gone? If so, there’s a possibility that what you’re calling guilt is something else.
If guilt isn’t the right word to define what you’ve been feeling, it may be adding to the burden you’re carrying.

Here is how to get rid of feelings of guilt.

Try this little experiment

Think about the person and the reason you’ve been saying that you feel guilty. Then ask yourself, “Is there anything I wish I’d said or done differently? Is there anything I wish the other person had said or done differently? Are there some things I wish had happened better or more often?” 

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then it’s very likely that guilt is the wrong word to define what you’re feeling. Why? Because guilt implies intent to harm.
So ask yourself one more question: “Did I do anything with intent to harm the person who died?” If your answer to that question is NO, then you really need to wonder if guilt is the right word to use.
 significant emotional loss you are not alone.jpg

Here’s an example of how the word guilt gets falsely applied

You get a call from your mother telling you that grandma isn’t doing too well. It isn’t feasible for you to make the trip to see her, so you decide you’ll go see her later in the year. But her condition worsens and she dies without you having visited her. 
You might tell us you feel guilty, and we might ask you, “Did you NOT visit her with intent to harm her?” And you would reply, “No, it was an awkward time for me—but if I’d known how close she was to the end, I would have dropped everything and gone to see her.”
When you identify anything you wish had been different, better, or more, you are on the right path to being able to feel “complete” with what you now realize is unfinished for you in relationship to the person who died. 
Sadly, you can’t get them back and talk to them in person, but you can do the next best thing. With the guidance of the actions of the Grief Recovery Method, you can communicate [indirectly] any apologies, forgiveness, or significant emotional statements that express the real feelings you have about what did and didn’t happen. 
When you do that, you lift the false burden of guilt, which allows you to retain the fond memories you have of that person without them turning painful for you.
If you found this Grief Blog article on grief and guilt helpful, you may also want to read 3 Reasons Why Grief is so Challenging
Free book grief loss death divorce recovery



I just read about this in your book. It really was an eye opener to me. So I am trying to find a better word to use when I think of my son and how many times I could had done something at the time but didn't. I have learned so much from your book, Grief Recovery Handbook. Thank you.


Dee, thank you so much for your comment. We are delighted to hear that the book has helped you!

So well written! Thank you! I am a GRM Specialist and I will share this in my practice with grievers!
I feel guilt for the self inflicted death of my teen nephew. I feel guilty because for many yrs I was upset at his mom and didn't speak her. We started talking 8 months before his death. I would say hello to my nephew and hug him when I arrived or left any gathering. I had a gut feeling something was not right with him but I didn't want to overstep any boundaries so I wouldn't have conversations with him like I do with my other teenage nieces and nephews. Because I had the gut feeling he wasn't ok and didn't say anything about it I am not able to live a normal life. What would my feelings be called if not guilt?
Maria - I understand what you are saying! When you have had a broken relationship, like the one with your sister, that is just starting to get back on track, it is normal to be very careful about doing anything that might cause new problems. It is also very normal, after a death, to start reviewing that relationship and thinking about things that you might have wished had been different, better or more. This is particularly the case when someone takes their own life. In these situations, people often spend a great deal of time looking for missed clues that there was a problem. Even if there was something you felt in our "gut," those feeling now become even more exaggerated, based on the fact that he actually took his life. I am sure that the last thing your nephew would want is for you to be suffering right now. That is something very easy to say, but I am sure it really does not make you feel any better. It is a logical comment, but grief is emotional, not logical. Those feelings that you are experiencing, whether you call them guilt or not, are related to all of the unfinished business in your relationship. I already mentioned things you wished might have been different, better or more, but this also includes those conversations that you wished you might have had with him. All of this keeps you focused on that one moment in his life when he chose to deal with what was, perhaps, a temporary problem with a very permanent solution. That one moment was hardly the story of the rest of his life, and I am sure that the actions of that moment hardly defined his entire life. It is your life long memories of him that are now being lost to the actions of that moment. I know in my hearts, because I have worked with many other who have walked the path you are now walking, that The Grief Recovery Method can help you successfully move through this loss. It is spelled out in "The Grief Recovery Handbook," a step by step approach to dealing with the exact kind of emotional pain that you are experiencing. If you go to the website (www.griefrecoverymethod.com), you can see if there is a Specialist in your area who can help you work through this in either a group or one-on-one situation. If not, you can get the book on the website, or at your local bookstore, and it will walk you through the process. It will take a bit of emotional work, but it is worth it for you to move beyond this pain. (I am not talking about years, but rather weeks.) Please do not let the end of his life forever destroy yours. That is is no way paying tribute to him. Once you have taken this action for yourself, you may decide that you would like to become a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, so that you can help others walking that path you are now on. I wish I could give you a pat on the head or a pill that would make everything wonderful again for you, but it really centers on you making the decision to take recovery action for yourself. I have faith in you, Maria, and I kow that you are a caring person. Now, please take a moment to take care of yourself, so that once again you can be there to care for others! Steve

I just read some interesting articles on something called "hindsight bias". Hindsight bias is (according to the following definition obtained from Wikipedia): "Hindsight bias, also known as the knew-it-all-along effect or creeping determinism, is the inclination, after an event has occurred, to see the event as having been predictable, despite there having been little or no objective basis for predicting it.[1][2] It is a multifaceted phenomenon that can affect different stages of designs, processes, contexts, and situations.[3] Hindsight bias may cause memory distortion, where the recollection and reconstruction of content can lead to false theoretical outcomes. It has been suggested that the effect can cause extreme methodological problems while trying to analyze, understand, and interpret results in experimental studies. A basic example of the hindsight bias is when, after viewing the outcome of a potentially unforeseeable event, a person believes he or she "knew it all along". Such examples are present in the writings of historians describing outcomes of battles, physicians recalling clinical trials, and in judicial systems trying to attribute responsibility and predictability of accidents.[4]".
It seems hindsight bias could be applied in many cases of guilt due to grief. We think we should have known, or in fact we believe we DID know what the outcome was going to be in a given situation, and we blame ourselves for not doing more to prevent that outcome. We run the various possible outcomes through our mind, and begin to engage in "if only I'd done this or said that instead, I could have saved _________" (fill in the blank with your deceased loved one). We begin to engage in a sort of "magical thinking", the definition of this term also being obtained from Wikipedia, with the psychological definition being especially apropos I believe, in the case of grieving and guilt: "Magical thinking is a term used in anthropology and psychology, denoting the fallacious attribution of causal relationships between actions and events, with subtle differences in meaning between the two fields. In anthropology, it denotes the attribution of causality between entities grouped with one another (coincidence) or similar to one another. In psychology, the entities between which a causal relation has to be posited are more strictly delineated; here it denotes the belief that one's thoughts by themselves can bring about effects in the world or that thinking something corresponds with doing it.[1] In both cases, the belief can cause a person to experience fear, seemingly not rationally justifiable to an observer outside the belief system, of performing certain acts or having certain thoughts because of an assumed correlation between doing so and threatening calamities."
It has helped me in dealing with my OWN guilt in grieving the loss of my husband a few months ago. I am working to put the "coulda, woulda, shouldas" in perspective, realizing that ultimately my husband made some bad choices that led to his heart attack, going against advice of doctors, myself, and other family members. When all is said and done, we cannot make a person listen to us or choose to engage in the behaviors we would like them to. They must make those choices. If they want to be persuaded, they will be. If they don't want to be persuaded, they won't be - despite our thoughts to the contrary.

This article has really helped, my papa passed away a few weeks ago, after suffering with cancer for a few months. He was so strong and independent before he got sick, seeing him like that was very hard for my family, especially my father. My dad and I already had a very rough relationship, I moved away very young and that seemed to be the only way we could get along. But my papa always missed me and wished I would come home. When he got sick I would go see him as much as possible, but it was a long drive, and I still believe my dad didn’t want me there. So it was always a very uncomfortable situation. The last day I saw my grandpa, I had to work late so I only caught the last few minutes of the visit by the time I arrived, and my grandpa asked me to come over the next day and I promised that I would. I ended up fighting with my father that night, and never went to see my grandpa the next day even though I promised. He died a few days later. So his last memory of me was that I never came to visit. He was the only male figure in my life that i loved and trusted with all my heart and sole. I just want to tell him I’m sorry

My dog was my best friend we use to do so much stuff together went on alot of trips, vacations,camping, hiking sometimes she would get loose and wonder off then i would have to go and find her or she would just come back but one day she had got out and i told myself that she will be back sooner or later the next day I went out searching for her put flyers around my neighborhood and online 6 days had pass and i was getting very worried then i had gotten a call from a man saying that he found my dog he told me that he tried to scare her away but when he went outside the next day my dog was on his porch and she was freezing so he let her stay in his house for two days took her to the vet when he drop her off the vet gave this guy a choice to keep her or put her down and he said that he could not keep her so they put her down after they did that he seen my flyer i put upi feel guilty that i didnt go out looking for her right when i notice she was gone i feel guilty that she was out in the cold lost and i think about how scared she was i know that she wanted me and I wasn’t there now i have to live with this guilt for the rest of my life every time i think about the whole Situation i brings tears to my eyes i can’t believe I failed her my best friend

I just went to a memorial for my high school sweetheart. He was my first love. We broke up when I went away to college. It was devastating at the time, but I moved on, had several other relationships, and eventually married a great man and had 2 beautiful kids. I thought about him every once in a while. But was well over the drama of our past. Several years ago I ran into his sister and found out he was sick. He had had a kidney transplant that never really went right. He was divorced with a young son, living far away. I sent a card saying I was thinking of him. He texted and we kept in touch. I didn't mind hearing from him and liked to know he was doing ok. My husband knew, but it still felt strange to me, even though it was all above board. No innuendo or flirting; just friendship and hoping he was getting better. I guess I always thought we would see each other again. It had been 25 years. Eventually the texting petered out. Life got busy. Then I got the call.
At the memorial his family told me that I was very important to him. His mom said she wished we had gotten married. His brother recalled how fun and funny it was to watch his older brother fall in love. I left more confused than ever. My simple sadness over a 46 year old life lost is muddy and uncomfortable. I can't stop crying. I feel so much regret that I let that final stage of friendship trail off. Please please help...

Add new comment

For more information, please read our FREE e-book,
Copyrights © / Trademarks (TM). ©1993-2015 Grief Recovery Institute®, John W. James, and Russell P. Friedman. All Grief Recovery Institute® related copyrights/trademarks are owned by The Grief Recovery Institute, John W. James, and Russell P. Friedman including but not limited to: The Grief Recovery Institute®, The Grief Recovery Method®, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, Grief Recovery®, and AARAM Formula®. All rights reserved.