How to Get Over the Guilt of Grief
Guilt is a common emotion following the loss of a loved one.
Perhaps you feel remorse over how you treated your deceased parent or friend before they passed. Or maybe a close family member is making you feel guilty about not being able to attend another relative’s memorial service or funeral service. Worse, you may blame yourself for the death of a loved one or believe you contributed to it. While remorse is common, it can also become a self-destructive emotion when left unchecked.
Below are some tips to help you to stop blaming yourself and begin to release the guilt you’re holding onto.
Talk about it.
Many people ask themselves, “Why did my loved one die and not me?” or wish that they had treated their loved one better. Caregivers, in particular, may even feel a sense of relief once their ill loved one has passed on. Some may ask themselves, “How can I ever be happy when he or she is gone?” If you are comfortable doing so, share your feelings of culpability with those close to you. You may find that others are also carrying a similar burden. Or, they may help you to put your guilty feelings into perspective. Talking about it can help everyone involved move towards acceptance and feel less alone.
Focus on the positive.
Others can say and do things that make us feel guilty, but ultimately, guilt is an internal emotion. Cognitive theory suggests that changing your thoughts can change your emotions. Recognize what is outside of your control so that you can instead focus on what you can control. The next time you feeling of guilt arise, try to replace them with positive thoughts. For example, you may think you didn’t do enough to help your ailing loved one in his or her final days. Instead, try to recognize the ways in which you were there, such as with frequent phone calls or the times you got them through challenging moments with your support.
Write a letter of apology.
Even though your loved one is no longer here to talk to, you can still release your feelings of guilt by composing a letter to them. Speak from your heart about why you blame yourself. Write what comes to you. It can be a simple, “I’m sorry” or several pages long. If you feel that you have wronged them, say so. Tell them why you blame yourself and are feeling guilty, then ask for their forgiveness. It’s important to admit to your feelings of remorse, ask for forgiveness, and let go.
Hold a memorial service.
Even though your loved one has passed on, it’s not too late for you to honor him or her. Even if your sibling handled all of the funeral home arrangements, preparing or participating in a memorial service can still be a deeply meaningful gesture. Try to recall the happy times you shared and hold onto those moments.
Make a donation.
Giving to a charity or organization in the deceased’s name, particularly for a cause that was meaningful to them, can be healing. For example, if your mom was a dog lover, you could volunteer for an SPCA event. If you don’t have the time to spare, consider making a small donation instead. Allow yourself to experience the positive feelings that come with this act of respect and kindness. Not only can it help with the grieving process, but it also serves a greater purpose.
This can be the hardest part of the guilt and grieving process. But as Maya Angelou wisely advised, it’s important to “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” Recognize that changing the past is not possible and is outside of your control. Instead of avoiding feelings of guilt and blame, allow them to teach you something new. Vow to do better from now on. Decide to honor the one who has passed by choosing to grow from the experience.
Releasing yourself from the burden of guilt can feel like an impossible goal but it is achievable. Know that your grief is uniquely yours and all of your feelings are valid. Moving through remorse takes time and effort but is well worth it.
If you’re feeling stuck in the cycle of guilt and need additional help moving on, please reach out to our caring team. It is always our pleasure to serve you.
About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.