Thursday, September 26, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, Acknowledge Guilt and Regret, then Move on

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.

     Guilt 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.”

     “Right,” 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.

                                                                 Peter McWilliams

     Caution! Don’t 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 thoughts:
·       Did we miss something?
·       Could we have prevented this?
·       Why did we not know?
·       What do we do now?

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:
   special words he created that had only meaning for us (“giesel stacks” for purple-stalked flowers we used to see along the roadside);
   special places we visited (Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, where we rode nine rollercoasters in one day);
   special gifts he gave me (a dog that walks and sings, “I really love the way you walk”);
   all the thank-you’s he gave me for things I did for him (sometimes this annoyed me);
   his smile (one of us would start the smile, then the other would sense it and look and smile back from the soul);
   a favorite quote of his (“I really like beer.”);
   his humor (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 many more.

These 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 too.

     Grief 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.

2.      Hope Floats (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 beginning,
                 Just give hope a chance to float up and it will.

     After 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 loved!


·       I give myself permission to change.
·       I accept myself for who I am.
·       I know I cannot change the past.
·       I am kind to myself.
·       I 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 Amazon link: 

No comments:

Post a Comment