Short essays by Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., the author of TING AND I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, published in September 2011 by Outskirts Press (Parker, CO, USA), available from outskirtspress.com/tingandi, Barnes and Noble [bn.com], and Amazon [amazon.com], in paperback or ebook formats. Please visit us at tingandi.com for more information.
Thursday, September 26, 2019
GOOD GRIEF, Acknowledge Guilt and Regret, then Move on
Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.
and regret are two powerful feelings that descend upon those suffering the loss
of a loved one. You find yourself dissecting the events prior to the loss,
looking for things you did wrong that may have led to the loss, things you did
not do, or things that you perceived you missed that led to the loss event. I
did it, others have done it, and you will too when your time comes.
However, this does not mean you must be trapped in guilt
and regret. Remember that hindsight is worthless and only causes anxiety,
increased stress — and can lead to depression (which is discussed in a later
section). Dwelling on guilt and regret immobilizes you in the past events and
keeps you from living in the present.
Often, you keep your guilt and regrets
locked inside while you relive events repeatedly. I am sure that you have heard
some say: “You need to share your
feelings at a time like this, and you will feel much better.”
you reply, “that’s easier said than done.”
Some people say this and mean it. Maybe they have personal
experience and truly relate to what you are going through.
Some people say this because it is expected, an automatic
response appropriate for the occasion. Learned behavior from their experiences.
Other people say this and are so sorry they did. They
happen to be at the right time and place when you spew forth such painful
memories that they are not prepared to hear.
How do you sort out what to do when
overwhelmed with grief and loss? Take a few deep breaths to calm and relax,
then go with your gut response. Some things are so personal, however, that you
have guilt or regrets about revealing things that would make you feel you were
betraying your now-deceased partner and exposing your vulnerability. It’s fine to keep some thoughts private. Share what you want,
when you want, and to whom you want.
It will work out.
Have a care when sharing with others the “what if’s” and the “I should haves” associated with guilt
and regret. Although some will listen to you and provide caring, I found it
made others very uncomfortable. Some won’t really listen to you; instead, they
immediately dismiss your feelings by telling you that you did your best, not
what you really want to hear at first. You are looking for positive support and
comfort. You just want someone to listen.
Keep in mind that they are having their own issues with the
sharing/feeling process too and may not realize it. So, be understanding and
patient with them, even though your brain may be screaming, “How do they know
what’s your best?”
Again, take a few breaths to calm and relax. Things will
really ease up over time…as you gain perspective. Screaming into a pillow,
crying, praying, meditating, or other coping strategies may be valuable — I
have used them ALL!
Guilt is anger directed at ourselves
at what we did or did not do.
get stuck in guilt, self-blame, or rehashing negative aspects of the
experience. This will torment you, adding to your stress, creating havoc among
mind, body and spirit. It’s okay to think about each instance of guilt and
regret. Write them down if you must and look at them in black and white. Try to
accept what you did and did not do, one item at a time. Forgive yourself and
let it go — then forgive yourself and let it go again…and again if you must.
Believe me, forgiving oneself does not happen overnight —
it takes time. Later, you will realize that you really did the best you could
at the time and under the circumstances. Forgiveness is talked about in another
section, as well.
My daughter and I talked and shared our
·Did we miss
have prevented this?
·Why did we
·What do we
Talking allowed us to bring our fears and thoughts into the
open and work through our guilt. We clarified and verified each other’s
feelings. I look back every now and again and still spend some time pondering
these questions and seeking answers.
Some questions have no answers. I know now and accept that
I cannot change the past. I am thankful for the time my husband and I had
together. I focus on all the great things we did together.
This is important. I will repeat it.
I still circle back to regrets and guilt now and again,
even though I know I cannot change the past and I have forgiven myself.
To overcome the feelings of guilt and regret I wrote on
pieces of paper some things that made me remember my husband. I did this over
Christmas, four months after his death to “remember” and keep him with me.
Eleven months later, as I am writing this, I am looking at them for the first
time and with much emotion pouring forth. Tucked in a red Christmas bag with a
gold bow were small pieces of folded paper that included:
words he created that had only meaning for us (“giesel stacks” for purple-stalked flowers we used
to see along the roadside);
places we visited (Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, where we rode nine
rollercoasters in one day);
gifts he gave me (a dog that walks and sings, “I really love the way you
thank-you’s he gave me for things I did for him (sometimes this annoyed me);
(one of us would start the smile, then the other would sense it and look and
smile back from the soul);
quote of his (“I really like beer.”);
(hiding in closets to jump out and scare me or my daughter);
•his love of
horses (he took me to racetracks from the East Coast to the West Coast) and so
notes helped me stay connected to him as part of my life and reinforce all the
positive experiences we shared. I began to let guilt and regret go so I could
make room for all the best of memories to shine. I encourage you to do this
is not as heavy as guilt, but it takes more away from you.
―Veronica Roth, Author
Movies I watched a few times dealt with
grief, loss, guilt and regrets allowed me to immerse myself in these emotions.
Maybe not the best thing to do, but it
was therapeutic for me. I looked at these movies anew through eyes of one who
now had experience:
1.Meet Joe Black
(Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt) — This movie dealt with dying, death, and rebirth.
It demonstrated the impermanence of life and that it has a natural end — death.
It reminded me what is important in relationships — love. I always cry during
this movie, yet it makes me feel better. I want to do a better job at
relationships now, to make a conscious effort to care, to listen and to wish
everyone the best.
(Sandra Bullock; Harry Connick, Jr.)
One of my favorite movie tear-jerkers. I love the story, the pain and suffering
demonstrated by Sandra that occurs side-by-side with the mother’s optimistic
outlook. One scene I remember clearly is when her mother dies and Sandra says,
“Not now, momma, not now.” That is just how I felt when my husband died in bed
next to me: “Not now, Fred, not now.”
Watching this movie helped me face the reality of death and
the emotions associated with death — but even more: if I choose, I could open my heart and let hope float
up…renewing me, too.
There are many other scenes in the movie that provide
insight into the journey through life.
I love this quote from the movie:
Beginnings are scary.
Endings are usually sad.
But it’s the middle that counts the most.
You need to remember that when
you find yourself at the
Just give hope a chance to
float up and it will.
a death, your journey with your loved one has ended, but another journey lays
ahead of you. I encourage you: take steps to let go of the sadness, guilt, and
regret…embracing hope in the new beginning,
though you may feel scared. This is hard
work, I kid you not — but well worth the effort. Now it’s your turn to create a
guilt and regret resolution list:
•places to go,
•people to see,
•movies to watch,
•books to read, or
•any activity that help you to resolve
these negative emotions and lift you spirit.
See the next page for a form to use or
just make your own list. Take another step to happiness — SMILE — you are
give myself permission to change.
accept myself for who I am.
know I cannot change the past.
am kind to myself.
accept that I am on a journey of change that will result in new opportunities.
With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD
Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this