Grief and guilt often go together and there can be several different causes for that emotion, explains Elizabeth Postle, healthcare professional for 45 years and author of this site.
One of the problems a lot of the bereaved feel is guilt. They ask themselves - "Why am I alive when my loved one, family or friends are not?" This 'survivor guilt' is particularly prevalent after a car accident or in returning servicemen. People who are left behind often feel that they are not as worthy as those who died around them. It is also common when a young member of the family has died. We want to be able to swap places and feel that we should not be alive and certainly not enjoying ourselves.
Often we may feel guilt that we are not coping with our grief as well as we should, especially when well-meaning friends and family think we should be over it by now.
We might feel guilt that our grief is excessive and that we are being judged for our grief. But no-one else knows or understands what you feel. Your grief is yours alone and is completely valid.
Sometimes you might have guilt for actually causing the death, even if it was unintentional or an accident.
Guilt is an emotion we all feel at times, although not always a healthy one, if we cannot change an outcome.
bereaved people feel anguish due to the fact that they had had a row with
their spouse or child or parent before they died. This is a natural
emotion. But forgive yourself. All family members have upsets from
time to time. Had you been able to make your peace beforehand it would
have passed over as a minor spat. All forgotten. Be honest with
yourself that this argument would have been over and harmony restored
had you been given time.
Forgive yourself, forgive your loved one too. Because of the circumstances things get built up and out of all proportion to what actually occurred. It’s up to you to forgive yourself and forget now. Move on. Remember the happy times and learn to laugh again. Talk about the good times. Don’t spoil the memory of the happy years you spent together because of one argument.
Accept that more often than not there is no fault anywhere and there is nothing you could have done to change events. This is just going to make you feel worse. Accept what has happened and move on with your life. It is not helpful to blame yourself or anyone else. Life happens and is often beyond any of our control.
Some people find it helps if they write a letter to a loved one they feel they might have wronged in some way before they died. You don't have to know what to say. Just start writing. Even if you just put, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry" a hundred times down the page, it can be very soothing and help you to move on. Throw away the paper, or burn it too if it helps.
Another way to let guilt go is to write a response from the loved one to you. Imagine what they would say to you when they received your apology letter. Most of the time, we are beating ourselves up for no reason.
children imagine that for some reason they are responsible for the
death. That if they had behaved better or done something differently it
wouldn't have happened. They try to make up explanations for what has
happened, and often end up feeling guilty. And frequently no-one will
know that they feel like this. It is important to communicate clearly
with children so that they have a clear understanding that it wasn't
See my pages on Children and Grief for more information.
Guilt can take up so much negative time after a death or when a loved one has to go into long term care for whatever reason. We can only do what is best for ourselves and the family at any given time. Hindsight brings up many ‘if only’s’ or ‘could I have done things differently?’ We should only worry about things we can change and these afterthoughts do not solve anything.
Many carers cope for many years, do their best and then feel so much guilt as they feel they could have done more. This demonstrates unrealistic expectations of their capability, no one is superman or woman.
Many people cannot cope with the care role at all, you should be proud of what you achieved.
The carer needs time for herself/ himself too. They tend to forget that they are entitled to enjoy some spare time. There is a huge sense of loss when the full time care role comes to an end. There is too much time for regrets, grief and these negative thoughts of ‘was enough done for my loved one?’
Give yourself time to grieve and find a lifestyle for yourself again, it is time for some enjoyment again after all your care of others. Well done. Good luck for the future. Read more about coping with caregiver grief after the death of your loved one.
Guilt can be caused by worrying about what other people might be thinking. And it is true that some people might think that you shouldn't be happy, that you shouldn't be re-marrying so soon, or getting on with your life. But that is their problem. You know you loved the deceased one. You know that you have grieved. And you know that life is precious and it is your time now, to make the most of the life you have left.
I have always felt that we grow stronger having had a loving relationship and should try to live a useful life not only for yourself but for them too. Your loved ones would not want to know that you were continuing with an unhappy lifestyle.
Yes, we may feel guilt as a normal emotion of grief but let it flow away with the waves like the other negative feelings. Life is a precious gift however long we have, let us try to have a positive purpose each day.
Understanding Guilt During Bereavement by Dr Bob Baugher
This excellent book explains all the different types of guilt you may feel after a bereavement and what you can do to feel better.
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