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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Guilt and Grief

When we've been waiting a while for death to come to a loved one, there can be a sense of relief when he or she actually dies. Our lives will no longer be ruled by hospital visits or home care burdens. We will no longer have to watch our beloved wasting away or listen to moans of pain. The death really is "for the best." Yet, we feel guilty for those thoughts, and if anyone dares to voice them, we feel a spurt of anger. The emotions of grief are so confusing.

We may feel, rightly or wrongly, that we are somehow responsible for the death. This type of guilt is especially present when death comes through accident or suicide. Surely there must have been something I could have/should have done to prevent this horror. Many of the grievers in these situations will be blaming themselves or each other. I strongly urge professional help for those suffering this type of bereavement guilt.

There is also survivor guilt - why am I alive when my beloved is dead? Again, this will be extreme if we have survived an accident in which another died. But in its lesser form, it is usually present as a normal part of grief. Death is no respecter of persons. It may feel to us as though the best, the brightest, the smartest, the most... has been taken away, while we are left to carry on. We may feel frightened and unequal to the tasks ahead. Why couldn't we have died instead? What is so special about us that we are alive when our loved one is dead?

Finally, there may be guilt involved in grief due to an unresolved aspect of our relationship with the deceased. We find ourselves endlessly wrestling with questions: why didn't I..? why did I...? what if I had...? When death happens there are always many things left unsaid, many acts left undone. We always have regrets. Now we will have to work out our own solutions without the one who has died.

Feelings of guilt are a normal part of grief. In most cases we manage to let go of the guilt, as we realize it has no point. If guilt becomes paralyzing during the grieving period, we probably need professional help. Talking things out in a safe environment can help us resolve issues even without our loved one's presence.

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