: responsibility for a crime or for doing something bad or wrong
: a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong
Guilt is a naturally occurring by-product of grief. Sometimes for me, it feels like being alone in a desolate place like a desert or a foggy forest to deal with my sense of shame and the feeling that I didn’t do the right thing. It might feel differently for you. Most of us feel as if we have done something bad or wrong when a loved one dies. Merriam says it differently and obviously the first definition in Merriam’s doesn’t apply to grievers…unless involved with the death like murder or euthanasia. It is common however if the griever was providing care such as babysitting and the child gets injured or worse. Just a few weeks ago here in a community near where I live a two year-old child fell into a community pool with his caregiver mere feet away. She turned to hand someone her cell phone and in that few moments her attention was diverted. This poor young woman will never forgive herself and is understandably consumed with guilt. The parents of the baby have graciously told her that they don’t blame her and that they know she loved their little angel but she feels the pain of his loss and the pain and shame of guilt. I heard of a husband and wife situation where their teenaged son overdosed on drugs while mom was at work and dad was home. The wife blames the husband for not being responsible enough to stop their son from harming himself. She claims that if she had been home it would not have happened. I believe she feels guilty for not knowing that her son was doing drugs and that she failed to stop him but is deflecting her guilt onto her husband.
I don’t care how much you cared for or did physically emotionally or financially for your loved one there is always a reason to feel guilt. Most often it’s that you didn’t do enough…you didn’t do it correctly…you weren’t there…you weren’t tuned in to his or her needs…you “woulda shoulda coulda.” Then, there are the gazillion of reasons you can dredge up from your past to feel guilt. My grandfather died when I was 20 years old or so. He lived in another state and would come to visit us once a year. During those trips he always wanted to go up to Vancouver BC to visit his nephew. Well, I was a teenager or younger doing my own thing and did not want to be crammed into a car for three plus hours up and three plus hours back to visit people I didn’t know. After gramps died I wished I had gone at least one time. When my mom died I really felt that I had not spent enough time with her. I was too busy working and raising my own children. We lived in the same city twenty minutes apart. I visited regularly but after she died I just knew in my heart and soul that I could have done more and made more time to be with her. When my little boy died I didn’t feel guilt as much as I felt regret for being too harsh or not being a good enough listener. I didn’t feel guilty because I did care for him and I did my best to treat him with respect and dignity throughout his long illness and subsequent death. But we all have things we can come up with to beat ourselves up.
So, the best advice I can give is to concentrate on the things you did right…the times you did spend with him or her…the love you shared…and the best parts of your relationship. Most importantly forgive yourself for not being perfect. No one is perfect and hardly any of us can predict the future. Be kind to yourself. Focus on the love. Leave the guilt and self-abuse in that isolated desert and try to put it behind you.