“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
End of life decisions are perhaps the most difficult, we look back and question everything. Then we end up questioning why we are questioning our decisions in the first place.
It can be exhausting.
It is exhausting.
Should I have taken them to the hospital one last time?
Could I have told them I love them one more time?
Spending time in the what if will keep you up all hours of the night.
Trying to assume that we could have had any long-term impact
When we lose someone we love it is common to want to have done more for them. We find ourselves thinking, “What if I had taken them to the doctor one last time,” “I should have been there for them more” thoughts like these can keep us trapped in mental anguish, leaving us stuck in a cycle of guilt.
We can sit and replay every scenario and grasp for some sort of sense of normalcy, thinking we could have changed the outcome of our loved one. It is human nature to want to control the outcome of our lives and those we love.
We want to help. There is no harm in that.
Here are some helpful ways that you can try and release some of those feelings of guilt.
As a member of the bereaved club there are two main types of guilt that we can experience:
Survivors’ guilt is probably the most common guilt we see with our bereaved. Survivors’ guilt is when your loved one passes and you wonder why you were left here without them. It can be excruciating at the beginning of your grief process. There can be such a pull to want to be with your person again. Remember, while this feeling can be EXTREMELY overwhelming, it will subside with time. We encourage you to reach out to us, a trusted friend or licensed mental health professional if these intense feelings do not subside.
Causation guilt is also very common after a loved one’s death. We often tell ourselves the story that if we had done something different, made one more doctor visit, one more hospital stay, that we could have had an impact on the outcome and eventual death of our person. When we get stuck in that loop, we can dig ourselves into a deep hole. Try to remind yourself that you made each decision the best you could with the information given. Although losing a loved one is a deeply difficult thing to accept, we have no control over when and how someone dies.
The end goal is to see death as a natural part of life, it does not make grief easier but grief is the ultimate price we pay for love.
Remember that our brain can and will play tricks on us when we are experiencing heavy emotions.
One of the best things we can do while we are experiencing guilt is to try and understand that it is all just a part of the process, so allowing yourself and your brain to do what it needs to is helpful.
If you are feeling stuck, you can always journal what you are feeling. Take a long look at how real your guilt is, we often have unrealistic expectations of what we actually control in our lives. The truth is, we can only control our reactions to what happens around us. Give yourself grace upon grace upon grace with every part of this process.
Oftentimes, we need to get our feelings out of our bodies.
See the exercise below to assist you in externally processing your feelings:
We sincerely hope that this post offers you some peace on a hard day.
Please let us know if we can do anything for you.
-The Retreat Bereavement Team