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.
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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

Comments

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.


www.RememberingTimothy.org

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

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