After speaking with many clients who have held guilt close to their hearts, I have felt pulled to write.
Is it normal to feel guilty?
Yes, this is a very common feeling that people experience around a loss. I have seen many clients wonder if they could have done more to lengthen a family member's life, managed responsibilities better, or made better choices around care, including but not limited to medical decisions.
This emotion is a part of the grieving process.
The seven emotional stages of grief are usually understood to be shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance, and to be hopeful.
If you have ever experienced the loss of a loved one or a significant change in your life, you have likely felt some form of grief.
I feel it's important to note the definition of 'grief' here to help you understand what you may be moving through at this time.
Grief is defined as "mental suffering or distress that is caused by loss or affliction, sharp sorrow, or painful regret. Although everyone experiences grief from time to time, it is a very personal experience, and typically, no two people experience grief the same."
While grief can feel overwhelming and the pain associated with it is real, it's important to understand that it is a natural emotion and going through the grief process is a healthy way of dealing with loss. Identifying the different stages of grief and knowing what to expect during each one can help you understand the emotional changes that occur following a loss and could help you learn to cope.
Generally, when people hear the word grief, the death of a friend or loved one comes to mind. However, any loss that results in a significant change in a life circumstance or role can cause feelings of loss or grief. It could be the loss of a partner, a job, or a friendship.
A few years ago, I helped a friend through the loss of his business along with his business partner that had betrayed him. The experience was heartbreaking. He was hurt, angry, felt depressed, and wonder what would he do for work? Within the year he had moved on creating a new life for himself. Rather than having a very fast paced life, it had slowed down to a better quality of life. He co-created a new life for himself and he is now thriving.
There are many examples of loss, and grief is a REAL experience. The feeling of heartbreak is very common and normal.
Anxiousness and Overwhelm
It is not uncommon to wonder why you feel overwhelmed or question how long you will experience these feelings. If you experience grief, it is okay to feel a shift in emotions or even experience times that you feel emotionally unstable. It's essential to allow yourself to grieve and to know when to seek help if grief becomes complicated or overwhelming to help prevent long-term mental health challenges.
I can't stress enough the importance of having support around to help move through this time and the feelings that go along with it.
I, too, have felt the pang of guilt surrounding the passing of my mother. Did I do enough? Did I make the right decisions for her around her medical care? Should I have called my siblings earlier despite my mother's wishes? But, then I know in my heart I did the best that I could do.
Feeling Alone? You're Not Alone
When you are grieving, it can feel like a very lonely time. It's important to know, however, that you are not alone. Reach out for help to professionals that will listen. Some clients often reach out because they want to share feelings, and knowing how much I understand helps alleviate the heaviness of grief. To have even a few experiences clarified means a lot. I remember one client named Tony that called me about six months ago to chat. We talked for quite a while. I shared details, messages, and support. He shared, "You have no idea that weight that just lifted off my shoulders, and for that, I'm so very grateful."
Grief Timeline - Everyone is Different
Everyone experiences grief from time to time in life. It is a normal reaction to loss. The best way to move forward after a loss is to allow yourself to go through the stages of grief.
Remember that you should not compare the way you grieve with how someone else is dealing with grief. Some people go through stages with little difficulty and find inner peace and the strength to move on with life without complications. Others may experience one or more stages more than once and for different lengths of time. Recognizing where you are in the process and knowing when to seek help can be helpful.
Anger and Grief
Anger is another emotion that can cause great strain. I've witnessed it even in my family, where members lash out at each other. Even after twenty years, a cousin declared she didn't get the piece of furniture she wanted. It had gone to me, which was then given to my twelve-year-old niece. Sometimes we need to remind people of what they did receive, but then I know sometimes it's never enough.
Anger can also take over and be used to hurt others, even those closest to them. I see it play out with clients and always suggest additional support, counseling, and more positive ways for expressing emotions. If you're on the receiving end of anger from a family member going through a difficult time, a loss perhaps. It's okay to communicate boundaries.
Loneliness and Depression
During this stage of grief, a grieving person generally begins to reflect upon the loss they experienced and how it has affected their lives. Withdrawal from others to deal with feelings of grief alone is a common occurrence during this stage. While personal time is essential, it is also crucial to have a support system of people to lean on during this grief stage. Arranging for walking dates, time for self-care, and connecting with people will feel like a huge effort, but it's important. Those who you think should be there for you may not. This, too, is common. Reading books on grief and stories of loss helped me feel less alone. I remember reading the book titled "Option B" by Sheryl Sandberg. It's the story of the loss of her husband and many of the experiences she encountered over the first two years. She even went onto organizing a non-profit to help support others who have lost a spouse. I didn't associate with her story per se, but some of the experiences resonated, and her words helped.