Guilt and Regret in Grief
In my 16 years writing and speaking on the subject of finding hope and healing after loss, one topic more than any other seems to resonate with grieving people I have met. Most wrestle at some level with feelings of guilt and regret. I would be included in that group of people as Ashley’s death left me with many unfinished emotional issues which were holding me back in my grief journey.
12-years-ago, I realized there weren’t a lot of people discussing this subject. I also couldn’t readily find information about actions one could take to help alleviate the pain and emotional paralysis often associated with guilt. I decided I wanted to tackle this subject and began to seek the council of my grief heroes and friends, who just happen to be some of the brightest minds on the planet when it comes to grief and loss. With help from the late Dr. Darcie Sims, Dr. Bob Baugher, Dr. Heidi Horsley, and Dr. Gloria Horsley, I put together a workshop titled, “Healing Guilt and Regret”.
In my early years of presenting this workshop, it was extremely well received as it laid out how to document feelings, create a plan for working through these feelings and taking actions to help allow us to let these feelings go if and when we are ready to do so. After presenting this workshop for 2 years, I began to wonder if it might be more impactful if I laid out the information wrapped around my own personal story. 10 years ago, I presented “Healing Guilt and Regret” for the first time centered around my pain, my story, my guilt and my regret. As they sometimes say, “and the rest is history”.
Of all the things I present in the grief world, including music concerts, workshops, webinars, articles, television performances and radio interviews … nothing equals the connection I feel when I present this workshop. More than 10,000 people have attended this session over the years and I am always blown away at the impact the presentation has on those who struggle with these issues. Adding my story seems to make the information more relatable and the fact that I lay bare my vulnerability regarding the relationship struggles Ashley and I had in the months prior to her death seem to hit home for so many.
If you are someone who struggles with guilt and regret, there is hope. I present this workshop all across the country, my hope is that many of you will attend a future event. For those of you who may never have the opportunity to see this presentation in person, I will lay out some basic bullet points of things you can DO. Guilt is a heavy burden to carry, it sucks away our emotional energy and freedom to fully express our love for those we mourn. Guilt and regret if left unresolved will wrap us in shame and blame and steal our peace and joy. I hope this information is helpful for you.
- Write down your feelings honestly – take the time to put all that you feel into words. You can’t heal what you don’t feel … Pay no mind whether your guilt or regrets seem rational or make sense to anybody but you.
- Own your feelings – You can’t let go of or give away that which you do not own … claim ownership of each of your feelings.
- Categorize your feelings – Do you feel bad for something you said or didn’t say? Something you did or didn’t do? Was it something you feel you should have known or sensed about what was going on in the life of your loved one?
- Make an action plan – Take each of your feelings of guilt or regret and decide what action you wish to take. Is it something you want your loved one to forgive you for? Something you want to forgive your loved one for? Something you need to forgive yourself for? Something you want God to forgive you for?
- Take Action - Write it out, talk it out, meditate it out. As simplistic as this sounds, take each of your categorized feelings and with write to your loved one seeking the action you have chosen, or speak to them asking for the action you have chosen or meditate seeking the action you have chosen.
- Share with a safe person – It is extremely important that you share each of your feelings and actions with someone who will listen to you and not try to fix or minimize your guilt and regret. It is both freeing and healing when we share our most painful guilt with another who can simply validate that “we feel what we feel” and who will allow us to hold our own shame and blame until we are ready to let go of it.
- Rinse and repeat – Do this exercise every 6 months to a year to help stay connected to and in touch with additional guilt which may feel unresolved.
Within the grief world we often don’t validate and allow others to hold their guilt and regret. We too often try to offer silver linings or platitudes to others because we believe we are helping them with phrases like “you did the best you could”, or “how could you have known differently”, or “they wouldn’t want you to blame yourself”. These types of phrases are as unhelpful to grievers struggling with guilt and regret as those awful platitudes many of us had to endure such as “they are in a better place “.
My hope is that all who attend my workshops or read my articles on this subject understand the importance of allowing all those they encounter in grief to feel what they feel for as long as they need to feel it and give a safe place to share feelings without the need to try to fix or correct those feelings.
When we offer validation and acceptance, we give a true gift to those in grief. When we walk with those in pain without trying to take their pain away, we then give them a safe environment to work through their pain in their own time and in their own way.
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