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How can I deal with the feeling of guilt after my spouse’s death?

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Having feelings of guilt for what we did or did not do, whether real or imagined, is a common experience for many people going through bereavement. We may have guilt for all kinds of reasons, including not being available at a time when it was needed most. The amount and intensity of guilt varies with different people and within ourselves over time, and may range from little and mild to consuming and torturous. Being able to deal with feeling guilty is a very important step in moving through bereavement.

In asking this question you are taking an important first step: facing rather than trying to forget about feeling guilty. This step includes paying attention to the frequency and intensity of thoughts that begin with ”if I only had… or I should have…” Sometimes these kinds of thoughts, which usually make us feel bad and more depressed, can be addressed with reality statements such as, “I need to accept the reality of what has happened… yes, it would have been great if I had done that, and I did what I could.” Journaling or jotting down the thoughts may be useful in finding relief from the thoughts as well as gaining perspective.

Working with feelings of guilt usually includes going a little deeper and acknowledging our human limitations and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. As these other aspects of our experience are acknowledged, we then are more able to offer ourselves the forgiveness and compassion that is being asked of us. Using the group to talk about your experience give others a chance to let you know that you are not alone. You can also learn how they are proceeding with the process of accepting and letting go.

Posted in: About Grief and Healing

By Caroline Burns