Guilt


One of the things many mourners face is feeling as though they should have done something different to prevent the death of their loved one. I see this as an attempt to make the uncontrollable, scary elements of loss more controllable, even though it’s illusory. It is not uncommon to feel as though there was some action or words that could have been taken on the deceased’s behalf that could have made things better or even changed the course of events. Short of warning someone that their life was imperiled or actually saving their lives, there usually is not anything we can do to change the loss. This is one of those aspects of grief that can linger and torture a person if they do not expose it to the light of reason, or at least realize that while you may feel as though you could have prevented the death, the reality is you could not. Perhaps reframing this guilt as regret or disappointment that you did not have control over what happened, can make it easier to bear. I often help people process the idea that they are responsible by asking them how they can learn and grow from the loss. We cannot go back in time or change what happened then, but we can make a vow to choose different actions. For instance, if you had harsh words with the deceased and that is the last time you talked to them, you might strive now to resolve miscommunications now with living friends and family, so that you won’t be in this position again. Of course, one of the great mysteries of life and death is knowing how and when each of us will die — an impossible task. We can’t know when we might lose someone even if we are kind to them 100% of the time (which is also a difficult task even for the nicest of us). We need to be able to accept that there are some things over which we don’t have control, and so we can only try to do our best to treat others and ourselves well while we’re here. Guilt does not really serve that purpose, but it is a common byproduct of grief.

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