Guilt, Grief and Giving

Guilt can be a barrier to adaptive grieving and it comes up often in the Grief and Loss groups I facilitate. Many times the guilt centers around end of life decisions, a difficult discussion prior to a loved one’s death; lack of action/awareness/not stopping the loss (common with suicide or loss of a child) or lack of emotion or demonstrable emotion soon after the loss.

With many of these events, broadening the memory beyond the event(s) just before the loss, helping folks remain factual in describing the “story” of the loss, differentiating the cause of  legitimate guilt from the cause and consequences of the loss and evidence based narratives can help to resolve the guilt. However, even when a person understands that the guilt they feel in relation to a loss “doesn’t make sense” the feelings of guilt may still exist.

One way to address the emotion of guilt is to accept and act with it instead of fighting or holding on to it.  This isn’t about admitting to a wrong that does not exist or going back in time to correct one that does.  There are activities that can help resolve guilt regardless of whether or not it is “legitimate”.

One effective method is contribution, to get involved with an organization or event(s) that is in someway connected to the loss; in whatever capacity you feel ready for.   Sometimes it can be as simple as joining a bereavement group and taking opportunities to relate your experience to that of others.  Another possibility is to take part in a fund raising activity or volunteer in an organization that seeks to raise money for research, respite or some other need related to the issue.  This provides us the opportunity to pay down “the debt” (whether real or perceived) and allows us to use the emotion of guilt productively while building a supportive network of friends that can understand our loss in a way many others may not.  Lastly it gives us an opportunity to take control of our grieving while providing evidence to our capacity.

It is important for folks to be aware of how their loss has affected them and make safety and self-care a priority.  For example, volunteering in an oncology unit soon after the loss of a loved one to cancer might be too much.

Apologies for the re-post.  The post was published as an aside despite having a title.