Many people struggle with feelings of guilt, and for various reasons. For some it may be the nature of the loss or the regret of things left undone or said with the lost loved one.
Guilt is also another way we grieve, we miss our loved one and even miss them in advance of the future. We try to conjure up alternative situations which we may or may not have had control over, which could have meant our loved one may still be alive.
The honest truth is that, we can never truly know what the future may or may not have looked like. It is important to accept that we will have these thoughts at various stages throughout our grief journey. We will wonder what things would have been like
Additionally, we see guilt can display itself through many emotions such as insomnia, regret, upset stomach, crying and muscle tension.
These feelings can have a severe impact on the wellbeing of someone grieving. If left unaddressed can lead to anxiety attacks, depression or other stress related illnesses.
In my experience, I felt guilty doing anything that was slightly enjoyable after my husband died. I remember being taken out to a restaurant with friends as a treat and found myself feeling extremely anxious and unable to eat.
I would focus on feeding the children while barely eating myself. Internally, I was thinking about how much my husband would have enjoyed the experience and I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt.
If my guilt had words it would say “why do I get to be alive to eat this delicious food and my husband doesn’t?”.
It happened often in other areas of my life such as, when I was on holiday or anytime I enjoyed a good experience. If I felt ‘happier’ the moment I took note of my joyous mood, I felt a sense of shame like I didn’t deserve to smile because my loved one had died. My smile would retreat and my stomach would feel upset and I would feel nauseous . We share more Guilt of feeling happy emotions.
Dealing with grief emotions are hard. Extremely hard, but you don’t have to live with this guilt forever. It is not healthy to do so as it is harmful to your emotional health. Personally, I chose to let go of that guilt although it took me months and years to do so.
Two poignant points were helpful in re-framing my mind and processing my guilt while grieving.
- It is not my fault.
Our guilt assumes that we believe we could have done something which could have changed the outcome. However, there’s a big difference between being guilty and feeling guilty.
Because you feel guilty does not mean you are. Bear in mind that it is common that when a loved one dies, we often feel helpless. This feeling of helplessness is where regret and guilt are born.
When we begin to consider all of the should haves, would haves and could haves. The regret and hindsight can almost become a tool with which we beat ourselves up with daily, alongside the grief that we carry. The combination can feel so heavy.
- Forgiveness of yourself
Forgive yourself for the things you wish you had done differently or ‘should have known’. Even if you could have done something to stop your loved one from dying, you didn’t or couldn’t have.
On my healing journey, I have had to process other feelings of guilt which said I didn’t pray enough Or that I should have asked my husband not to make that journey in the car.
I later rationalised these feelings (which took months and years to overcome through talking with friends and therapy). I couldn’t have known that on this particular trip he would have a fatal accident. I needed to forgive myself.
If you are struggling with guilt and grief, I ask that you process these emotions and cry it out or write it down or talk with a trusted friend or therapist.
I have shared some of the posts we have written on this topic in this post and also below and hope you find them helpful as you process your feelings.
Lastly, I urge you to forgive yourself and keep forgiving yourself. A main part of the healing journey is the acceptance that what we did was enough based on what we knew at the time.
Over the last few years, we here at The Balanced Wheel have provided a few handy resources on bereavement support. We even have a bereavement support group too, if you’re yet to join it could help you process those guilt emotions.