I should have seen the signs.
I should have done more.
I should have been there.
These are common sentiments among those who are grieving—and what they suggest is an underlying feeling of guilt. Whether rational or not, a lot of us experience feelings of guilt during the bereavement process, kicking ourselves for not doing something—anything—to keep our loved one alive.
Guilt is a natural and normal component of grief; when something tragic happens, we want to make sense of it, to try to find an explanation, and often that means turning the microscope on ourselves. But just because it’s normal, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to bear—so what can you do to release yourself from grief’s burden?
- - Analyze the reasons you’re feeling guilty; ask yourself what you could have said or done differently. Share these thoughts with a friend or a counselor, who can help you see where you may be thinking irrationally.
- - When guilty thoughts spring to mind, try to stop them in their tracks; say STOP! either in your mind or even out loud.
- - If you believe in God or a higher power, consider what that higher power has to say about forgiveness—and remember that forgiveness is something you can apply to yourself.
- - Join a support group, where you can talk candidly with other people who are experiencing similar feelings and receive their love and support.
- - Try thinking of the good things you said or did to help your loved one; make a list and reflect on it when you start beating yourself up.
- - Visit your loved one in his or her final resting place and say out loud the things you wish you’d said when he or she was living; often, this can be very unburdening.
More than anything, give yourself some time and patience. Guilt is a natural part of grief, and it may take a little while for you to work through it and come to a place of peace.