Guilt is a strong emotion because you are in an extremely vulnerable state. Though guilt, regret and self-blame are natural feelings and come with your grief they are most times not logical...YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME FOR THE DEATH OF YOUR LOVED ONE.
Guilt can be described in 5 different areas of our life:
#1. SURVIVOR GUILT- BEING ALIVE WHEN SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS DIED. You may find yourself asking…”how could he/she die and I still be alive…why them and not me? Did I cause this death?
#2. RELIEF GUILT- This is when you feel guilty for being relieved when someone loved has died. This often occurs when a person has been sick along time…you may not miss the suffering and daily care giving. Also you recognize you will not miss certain aspects of that person (physical, verbal or alcohol abuse, etc.)
#3. LONG STANDING PERSONALITY FACTORS- some people have felt guilty all their lives for one reason or another, this is part of their personality.
#4. JOY-GUILT- experiencing any kind of joy, pleasure or just being relaxed and not thinking of your loved one can cause you to feel guilty that you are not grieving at that moment. As you move through your grief journey you will have more moments of this which means you are healing, but will never forget that person.
#5. MAGICAL THINKING GUILT- this means thinking that something you said or did somehow caused the death of you loved one…an argument, bad feelings, something said in the heat of the moment. REMEMBER YOU DID NOT CAUSE THE DEATH.
With guilt, “the gift that keeps on giving”, there are many ways to work through this emotion:
Look for a good support person to talk to. Someone who is compassionate, patient, non-judgmental, and a good listener.
Don’t allow others to explain your feelings away. While they might mean well this does not allow you to “talk out” what you think and feel.
Allow yourself some “review time” and continue to remind yourself that there are some things in life you cannot change.
Do not repress or ignore feelings of guilt. Physical and other emotional problems could result.
Forgive yourself, this is more important than forgiving anyone else because you have to live with yourself.
Get guilt out of you system by writing about it. This will also help you take a more objective view of it. Make a list of “those things I think I DIDN’T DO” and another list of “those things I DID DO”. The “did do” list will always be longer!
Self-forgiveness, even though there is nothing to forgive responds well when feelings are shared. A grief support group can help with the feeling that you are not alone. Also if feelings of guilt or regret are complicating you healing, don’t be ashamed to find a trained grief counselor to help you.