Guilt is a normal response to the belief that we’ve somehow failed in our duties and obligations or that we’ve done something wrong. It can feel a confusing mixture of feelings including doubt, shame, inadequacy, insecurity, failure, unworthiness, self judgement and blame, anxiety and fear of punishment. It can be very hard to maintain perspective.
When your loved one’s dies, you may feel guilty that you hadn’t noticed symptoms sooner, or believe that you waited too long to seek treatment or didn’t spend enough time with your loved one. If death is unexpected, you may feel guilty for not having predicted it. When death comes after a long illness, you may feel guilty for feeling relieved that your loved one’s suffering is over and you’re now free from emotional and practical burden of looking after someone who has been ill for sometime. You may feel guilty that you have received an inheritance following the death of your loved one.
Unfortunately, guilt is a natural and common stage of grief. When someone you love dies, its normal to look at what you did or did not do, to dwell on the what if’s and if only’s. Sometimes, though, there simply isn’t anything you could have done differently. When your loved one’s illness or death occurred, chances are that whatever happened beforehand was not intentional on your part.
Given all the circumstances, you were doing the best you could. You were basing whatever you did on what you knew, given the information available to you then.
Even if you had done things differently, your loved one still could have died in some other way at some other time. We sometimes can believe we have the ability to control the random hazards of life, even when we know that death is a fact of life.
Nevertheless, if after careful examination of the facts, you find that your expectations of yourself are reasonable, and you still did not live up to them, it’s important to face and take responsibility for what you believe you could have done differently. Healthy guilt allows us to own up to and learn from our mistakes. It gives us a chance to make amends, to do things differently next time, to come to a better understanding of ourselves, to forgive ourselves and move on.