Coping With Guilt

Free yourself from blame for what can't be changed

BY: Carol Staudacher


The widower laments, "I didn't pay attention when she told me she was not feeling well. She went through her illness alone."

The young accountant speculates that planning a trip with her older sister would have given her something to look forward to; that she wouldn't have given up.

The child believes that his wishing mommy dead during a fit of anger caused mommy to die.

The mother of three regrets the complaints she made about her husband's selfishness prior to his sudden death.

A grandfather feels that by not taking his granddaughter to a different hospital, he caused her death.

Guilt is one of the most powerful negative reactions to the loss of a loved one, equaled only by anger as a common grief experience. After someone close to us dies, we think back to events, conversations, or modes of behavior we engaged in before the death. We examine the way in which we believe we played a vital role in that person's final decline, accident, or illness. Often, we assume responsibility for the death, which can range from thinking we were unkind or unhelpful to thinking we actually caused the death.

Regardless of how or why our loved one died, we sift through the evidence of past behavior, giving ourselves reasons to be miserable. We become tormented by our own perceived failures, omissions, insults, poor judgment, or unwise choices.

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