Guilt and Grief: coping with the shoulda, woulda, couldas

When my dad died I remember well the intense guilt I had in the months that followed.  Though his death didn’t fit into one of the categories known for guilt, that didn’t stop me from feeling guilty.  I felt guilt that I wasn’t a match for a bone marrow transplant, though rationally I knew I had no control over that.  I had guilt that I hadn’t called him more during my first year of college, guilt that in the hospital we had told him it was okay to let go and that we would be okay without him.  When my sister’s boyfriend died of an overdose years later, my guilt went to a new level.  I rehashed all the things I felt I should have done, all the negative thoughts I had over the years, and approximately a million other guilt-thoughts that often plague survivors of substance losses.

Now, we could just assume I have guilt issues (quite possible) but luckily I have worked with enough grievers over the years to know that my guilt when grieving is the rule, not the exception.  In our experience most grievers have some level of guilt associated with their loss – sometimes big, sometimes small.  We have had a lot of comments about guilt on the blog and facebook lately.  So today we are thinking about, talking about, and embracing guilt and grief (well, sort of).

If you have ever felt guilt associated with your loss and articulated it to someone else there is a good chance you heard some variation of, “oh, don’t feel guilty!” or “you shouldn’t feel that way, it wasn’t your fault”.   If you’re like me, your inner-angsty-14-year-old probably screamed “don’t tell me how to feel, you don’t know me!!”.  In case you were worried, that is a totally normal reaction.  If you missed it, we wrote a post a while back about why you should never tell a griever not to feel guilty. You know us – trying to educate the world on how not to piss off a griever, one blog post at a time.

Here’s the deal – guilt is a feeling.  Feelings need to be validated and we need to find ways to accept, integrate, and move forward with these feeling.  We can’t stop feeling guilty because someone tells us to – sorry, that’s sadly just not how feelings works.  So, when it comes to why we feel guilt, it is important to reflect on the reasons for our guilt and then consider ways we can cope with guilt.  But first and foremost, we need to accept that guilt is a common and normal feeling in grief.

Why Do We Experience Guilt and Grief?

Because we really did something wrong.

As much as people are quick to say something wasn’t our fault or we shouldn’t feel guilty, a reality of life is that we all screw up sometimes.  We make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes have significant consequences.  Sometimes we fail to do things we wish we had done or should have done.   That may be as large as a grievous error in judgment or mistake that led to a death.  It could be as small as something hurtful we said, or something meaningful we failed to say.

Because we feel like we did something wrong.

As our dear cyber-friend Marty over at griefhealingblog.com has been known to say, just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are guilty.  There are many, many times that we grievers are completely irrational.  As we have been known to say, grief makes you crazy!  We dissect every moment of time with our loved one, we consider every ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ you can imagine.  Our irrational brain will find just about anything to feel guilty about.  Despite being irrational, this guilt can be consuming.

Because we want order.

This is a big reason for why we experience guilt and blame, though as grievers we often fail to see this connection.  The bottom line is this: without someone or something to blame, we have to accept that the universe may be unpredictable and chaotic.  If we think we could have done something differently that would have changed the outcome of a loss, that can provide comfort that there is a rational order to things and that we have some control.  If we accept that we never could have known or changed the outcome we must accept that some things that happen are complete outside our control.  As long as we hold on to guilt we have hope that we could have controlled the outcome.   A perception of control (however inaccurate) is often more comforting than considering that we have no control.  Talk about the lesser of two evils . . .

As usual, the question becomes what do you DO about guilt?  Here are some quick tips for coping with guilt:

  1. Acknowledge that guilt is a normal grief emotion and don’t let others minimize the validity of your grief experience.
  2. Consider what your guilt is all about.  Is it rational?  Is it irrational?  Is it about control?
  3. Talk it over with others.  Though you don’t want people minimizing your feelings, talking about guilt can help you reflect on your grief.  A good counselor or support group is a great environment to talk about feelings of guilt.
  4. Examine your thoughts.  Often our guilt thoughts, whether rational or irrational, start to consume us.  They can drag us down into one of those bottomless black holes – the kind that are full of isolation, despair, and far too much wine and ben & jerry’s ice cream.  In order to adjust your thinking, you have to know what your guilt thoughts are and notice them when they arise.
  5. If your guilt feelings are irrational, admit it.  This doesn’t mean dismissing your feelings of guilt.  It means acknowledging that, though you feel guilty, you may not actually be guilty.  Some common examples are acknowledging you did the best you could with the information you had at the time, you couldn’t predict the future, there were many other factors at play other than your behaviors, etc. Being honest with yourself about your guilt is important, and accepting that grief is sometimes irrational can be helpful.
  6. Find positive thoughts to balance your guilt thoughts.  “Thought stopping” is a technique with mixed reviews among the mental health crowd.  The idea is this – when you notice a negative thought taking over (ie guilt) make a conscious effort to stop and replace the thought.  Though it may not be quite this simple, there is value in having a positive thought to balance negative guilt thoughts you experience.  For example, if you are feeling guilt that you were not there at the moment of your loved one’s death, when that thought comes up be prepared with a thought about the many times you were there.
  7. Forgive yourself.  Easier said than done, right?  You can start with this post on making amends and then check out this post on self-forgiveness.  Remember, forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing.  Forgiveness can mean accepting that we may have done something we regret, but finding new attitude and perspective toward ourselves in relation to that action.  It doesn’t mean we forget, but means we find a way to move forward.
  8. Figure out what you have learned.  Guilt often teaches us something.  It can be something about ourselves or about the world.   We can learn and grow from almost any emotion (cheesy, but true) so take some time to consider what your guilt has taught you.
  9. Do something with your guilt.  Whether rational or irrational, you can use your guilt to help others.  What you do may come out of things you have learned. Whether it is educating others so they can avoid the mistakes you feel guilty about, raising awareness about causes of death (anything from heart disease to substance abuse to suicide), or simply encouraging others to talk with their family about end of life wishes, you can use many guilt experiences to help others.
  10. Consider what your loved one would tell you.  Get yourself in a space to truly focus on thinking about your loved one.  Imagine telling them how you are feeling – your regrets, your guilt, all of it.  If there are things you wish you had said, say them.  Then imagine what your loved one would tell you.

Guilt is a HUMONGOUS topic.  We have only scratched the surface today, so leave a comment to share your story and anything that has helped you with your guilt.  Then make sure to subscribe to get all our posts right to your inbox.

April 12, 2017

70 responses on "Guilt and Grief: coping with the shoulda, woulda, couldas"

  1. I have the best dogs in the world, I didn’t even want to look at dogs when my girlfriend would ask me to go to a pet store. I ended up getting a pair with her. We had puppies from them, and we kept two. One I delivered. One convinced me to keep her the night before she was to be sold. She laid in me, had this look in her eye that was deep and meaningful. I decided to keep her. So I had four dogs . this special girl then conceived and perhaps changed. She seemed more lethargic, distended even. I put it down to a normal change since she was adult, and slowing down like her mom. About a year later she conceived again, then a third time. There was only six months between litters on the third time. She seemed normal but on the eighth week, when the puppies were just weaned, she stopped eating. I brought her to the vet for what seemed like liver failure. I didn’t realize until later after how sick she was, whether it was pregnancy or drinking pool water. I had her in emergency care for five days. I think the vet just kept her knowing she would decline. I took her to another vet as she was now in pain, and euthanasia was recommended. The new emergency care facility had more drugs, a surgeon. They did a plasma transfusion, and drugs. They told me she was worsening, there was nothing I could do. They refused to do surgery, saying she had a five percent chance. I spent the afternoon with her, and euthanized her. She was only six. I feel like I caused the illness, band ultimately took the life of my soulmate. I can’t seem to shake the guilt, I tell myself she lives on in her puppies. That life isn’t fair. But I should have picked up on her symptoms. That maybeb I should have tried a feeding tube and rest.. Holistic medicine. I find it hard to live with myself. It’s now three days later. I feel completely responsible, but I will ensure her babies have babies, I think that’s ultimatelly what life is about. I rationalize. I still feel broken and guilty

  2. Hello.
    I know that most of these posts are about losing loved ones. Mine is different. I am 15 years old. I have lived most of my life feeling useless and sorry because of personal issues. To help with that, I begged my parents for a puppy. I was about 12 years old when I wanted that puppy. I eventually “manipulated ” my mom into getting me that puppy. My dad was in jail and he said no. I got that puppy. I finally was happy. That summer. I left to NJ for 2 months leaving Max (my dog) with my mom. I didn’t train him and soon he became aggressive. My parents promised to give him a chance to put him in training. They lied. I had him for 2 years and we moved to an apartment. Max was around 70lb. He got loose and scratched a little boy. My parents made me give him to a shelter and they killed him.

    Everybody says it’s not my fault. That my parents should have never gotten a puppy. But I chose to leave for 2 months and not train him. I chose to get the puppy in the first place. I have this huge guilt that I killed my dog. I can finally talk about him without crying. But I can’t sleep and I can’t eat. And at the same time I sleep all day and I overeat. He is everywhere and I miss him. He helped me with anxiety and depression and I betrayed him. He did a lot for me and I repayed him by giving him to a shelter. How do I deal with this guilt? This feeling of grief? How do I make it go away?

    • I’m so sorry your dog died. Yes he is an animal but the bonds we humans create with them can be so intense and the loss we feel when they go is painful, just like when people do. I know others have told you not to feel guilty, but I have to reiterate it as well. This is really just a very unfortunate situation and none of it is your fault. You’re 15 years old and your parents should have offered better guidance on getting the dog trained. Honestly I don’t like the way they handled this situation at all, but you can’t go on blaming them or yourself either. And keep in mind sometimes even the most well behaved animals snap outside of anything anyone did or did not do.

      Also, don’t try and get rid of the bad grieving feelings, it will only make you feel worse. Acknowledge them and sit with the uncomfortableness for awhile and soon you’ll see that you’re ok and you’ll start to process things. It would be very helpful for you to talk to someone as well like a therapist, or Minister or an adult family friend maybe?

  3. My 28 year old son died 8 months ago from an overdose while in a sober living house. I feel tremendous guilt about the fact that i did not use my retirement ira to put him into a higher quality treatment program instead of relying on insurance which only covered 28 days of treatment and then this sub par sober living house that was unstructured and unsupervised. I did not think of my ira until after he died
    I realize not that there are much better places that he could have gone to if i had only done the research and paid for them out of pocket. This guilt consumes me more than the fact that he is gone. I had thought all sober living homes were the same, but now know they are not.

  4. I lost my husband last year 2016. my whole world turned upside down. I feel guilty when i go out and have fun or social with friends .Especially when i get back home and i wake up feeling like i did something wrong…

  5. Hi –
    In your post, the word “overreacting” caught my eye. Actually, it’s more like the word gave me a hard kick in the butt. I feel SEVERE guilt, anguish, regret, sadness, etc., because when my sick, cancer-ridden husband wanted me to spend more time with him, I thought he was overreacting or feeling sorry for himself. I loved him, still do, and always will, but I’ve gotta say that even when his health was excellent, he could be possessive, controlling, childish, self-pitying, and defensive. So when he got very sick and wanted me to spend more time with him at the hospital, I thought he was just feeling sorry for himself. When he called from the hospital and said, “Please be here. I’m dying”, I thought he was overreacting. I feel like the biggest jackass that ever walked this earth. Recently I went for mammogram—I’m hoping that the results are very bad, that the hospital will tell me that I have cancer. This way, I’ll be able to join him. I don’t want to exist without him. He was so self-pitying for so many years—how the hell was I supposed to know that this time, the situation was for real? Anyway, dear, you are not alone. You are very much in my thoughts.

  6. Hello

    My English teacher passed away about 1 week ago. It such a shame that I never visited him and went to his funeral. Now it’s too late. I will never get to see him again. His grieve and guilty feeling still haunting me and it’s hard to for me to forgive myself for being such an ignorant.

    I met him about 20 years ago when I was a kid. He taught me and my siblings English. In order to make more money, he sold food near the church that he attended with his wife and his van.

    I always and still remember a particular food that he used to make for me… a potato pasta. He was like a father for me and his departure was too much for me…

    Maybe if only I got to see him even just for a while, I wouldn’t be haunted by this grieve and guilty feeling. The cause of his death was prostate cancer…

    My mom told me about this and she said that he was ready to face his end. I thought my mom was joking with me or maybe she was overreacting.

    On 27th December, I got a news from my mom that he already passed away. I was a bit shock, not really a big deal I told to myself… as the time goes on, those memories started to appear slowly… one by one… I couldn’t handle it anymore.. tears started to fall from my eyes… I didn’t enjoy my new year because I was still in agony.

    I started to blame myself… why I didn’t come to visit him? I had plenty of time and why I decided to ignore him? I was too busy with myself. I never thought it would happen. I thought he would recover and back to his daily life.

    I still remember the last time I saw him. He was walking on the bridge and I was driving. Wanted to call him but I was driving… so it’s very unlikely to say hello to him. Maybe I could have said hello to him. If that happened, that would be the last time he saw me and the last time I saw him smiled and hear his voice. I still remember the shirt that he was wearing.

    Now… it is too late for everything. Too bloody late. The moment when my mom informed me about his death, I thought he had been buried but during the new year, my mom told me that he was still there. Oh man… if only I decided to go there… it just like… miscommunication. My mom went to his funeral on 26th December and she informed me about his death on 27th December. Probably he was buried on 28th.

    Some people might think… “oh he was a teacher and he wouldn’t teach you if you didn’t pay him money”.
    Nothing wrong if people think like that… it’s not just knowledge and money… it’s MEMORIES. Something that money cannot buy. I still remember his face, his smile, songs that he used to sing when he was teaching us. Even he played magic trick on us.

    I willing to trade my tomorrow just for 1 hour or maybe 5 minutes to spend with him… I knew it wouldn’t happen and I cannot turn back the time.

    If only I got to spend at least 5 minutes with him… Maybe I wouldn’t be suffering like this. I am still holding my tears as I am writing this.

    Goodbye

  7. My father passed away on 10th September. He had chronic bronchitis for quite sometime now. He was undergoing treatment for the same. He was feeling discomfort for the past 10 days. He used to get tired even after walking 10 steps. There was a complete misjudgement in our understanding of his problems. We continued his treatment with his bronchitis doctor. He passed away due to cardiac arrest in hospital. He was my father as well as my mother. He gave me double the love. My mother has schizophrenia. I am really feeling guilty that I failed him as a son. I should have consulted alternate doctor and should have taken a second opinion We had time we could have given him better treatment. I didnt do 1 percent of what he did for me. Now I really want to take good care of my mom. She is the only one left in my life. He was a really good human being and did everything for everyone but noone could do anything for him especially me. I feel guilty please help me

  8. I’m ( I was the caretaker, of my Dad ) still struggling and suffering from a lot of guilt of having to make the decision of taking my dear Dad of life support, and even agreeing to let them operate on him .. after the horrible events.

    He had been in the hospital for pneumonia, and it seemed like he was recovering quite well, the Doctors said and then suddenly, one morning I called the hospital to ask how he was doing, and the nurse said he didn’t look so good and they are giving him extra oxygen.. ( I was on my way to a furniture store with my Mom, to find a more proper table for my Dad ). I always visited him every morning and afternoon, usually. But just this morning I decided otherwise, stupidly. As I didn’t think that such horrible thing that followed would happen to him. Although, I thought twice about not going to store and rushing to him that morning as usual, but I didn’t.

    So, half way to the stupid store I got a call. It was the hospital and they told me my Dad got a bowel obstruction and rupture ( he chocked to death of his vomit ) and they resuscitated him and sucked all the fluid out of his lungs. I’ve never ever heard of such a thing could happen before. They told me he is in the intensive care section now. I broke into tears and made my way to the hospital. It was so horrific seeing him with tubes and all, not responding. That same night, they called us and suggested on cutting him open to maybe safe his life, as he suffered a ‘intestinal breakthrough’. I couldn’t think straight. Of course I wanted to safe his life and do all that could be done, but I also don’t wanted him to go through an operation in that fragile and critical stage now, and even make things worse. But then I decided they should go ahead. But afterwards there was no evidence found in the gut area. They told us it could have been ‘intestinal paralysis’.

    After only a few days the doctor told me he sees no hope cause of the lack of oxygen to his brain that happened, and that he is not really responding. Although, he is kinda breathing by his own, with little help from the tubes. And has twitches here and there, even when I gently brushed against his feet. It was devastating, and I didn’t know what to do, or not do. ( He as well had been dealing with beginning Dementia, among other health issue. ) So, the Doctor ( which I feel now, kinda talked/rushed me into taking him of life-support, said it would be the best/human thing to do. As well I think now, because my Dad was at an old age already.. they just don’t bother anymore, sadly. ) I was still in a state of shock and disbelief. I really thought that when we take him off life-support, that he might miraculously come fully back to life. I don’t know.. I didn’t knew nothing anymore… I mean, I didn’t wanted him to suffer.. and the doctor said it’s probably best to let it happen all “naturally”. As well, they didn’t even give him morphine or else … although, I was worried that he might be in pain. But the Doctors said, that one can see if someone is in pain. But how can you see if somehow is in pain, when he cannot respond/react and is paralyzed in a state of coma due to the events???

    Unfortunately, my Dad didn’t had any papers stating anything for or against life support. So, it was horrible seeing him either way.. after taking him from life-support, he kept breathing for 2 nights and then I wasn’t there the afternoon he stopped breathing. It’s all devastating and hard to believe, still.

    I’m feeling so much guilt and regret. Why did I listen to the doctors? Why didn’t I give him more time on life-support ( people stay on life-support for weeks/months )?
    Why didn’t I go to hospital on that morning and decided otherwise? What was he thinking? He must have felt scared and alone? He must have felt abandoned, not cared for? What were his last words, before all hell broke loose and he couldn’t speak or react anymore? It must have been so horrific for him vomiting and choking to death, then being resuscitated and in that state of coma and then still the operation.. ? Could he hear me, see me? And then just dying all by himself? Making the decision for him?

    I don’t think I ever get over all this. Especially thinking and feeling what he was going through!!! It breaks my heart and my soul.

    I’m so so sorry, for writing all this in detail. It’s a complicated story what all happened and I’m having a very complicated grief from all those horrific events, which occurred to my dear Dad.

    Thank you for anyone who reads through my long comment/story.

    And my heart goes out to all the loved ones we have lost. ♡

    Thank you.

    • “What was he thinking? He must have felt scared and alone. He must have felt abandoned, not cared for.” I know EXACTLY what you’re going through. I know your pain, your feelings of guilt, your regrets. My best friend (my husband) recently passed away from cancer. He was a highly sociable person. He always loved being surrounded by people. But there came a point when his condition got so bad, they had to make him unconscious. They gave him pain medication through tubes, and he was unconscious, and his breathing was very laborious. One day I was in the room with him, just sitting by his side, while he was supposedly “unconscious”, when a nurse came in, and I asked if he could feel or hear anything at all, and she casually said, “Oh yes, he can probably still hear, even if he can’t reply.” I remember thinking to myself, “WHAT??? That means he might be aware of his current state, without being able to express his pain or his emotions!!” How frightening for anybody, but especially for a person who was always gregarious and expressive. How much like being trapped in a jail, where you’re the only person in the jail, and nobody knows you’re there. To think that he might have been consciously aware of his condition without being able to express his feelings—how absolutely dreadful. He’d had such a zest for life, and now to be in that position…. But anyway, he has since been cremated, and now he is a peace. Please don’t be hard on yourself. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing to deserve feeling shame or guilt. The fact that you cared enough to seek and find sites like this, and post your feelings, just proves that you are a good person, and that your loved one mattered to you very much. Please be good to yourself; you deserve it. You are in my thoughts.

  9. Hi! My father died last month from complications of his lung cancer. He was admitted in the hospital due to sepsis and later found out that he had pneumonia. I am working as a nurse overseas and decided to go home because the doctor informed us that my father had only have 1 – 2 months to live. The doctor let us decide if we wanted intubation and CPR just in case he arrested. So I asked the doctor about the benefit of having him intubated knowing that he had 1-2 months more to live. My father had big lymph node wound on his neck that made him very hard to drink his pills. So I was thinking that if we had allowed intubation, would that cause him harm. So I decided to ask my father about intubation. He said no. He said that he already decided before not to have intubation. He knew that the prognosis is poor. He knew that if he was intubated, the outcome would be still the same. He said that we should just understand him. He said that he will just suffer if he was intubated. After what he said I cried and I asked him if he knew that in case he arrested without intubation, he will die. He answered back to me that he will eventually lead there. He was so calm. He did not cry which surprised me. So I signed the form No intubation and No CPR. What is the point of CPR if there is no intubation. Then he deteriorated the following days, from simple oxygen inhalation via nasal prong, he needed to use a CPAP. Then he reach the point where he could still have difficulty of breathing in spite of having a CPAP. On his last day, we were asked to move to another room because my father’s doctor would want him on telemetry. My father had a good sleep after having an attack of difficulty of breathing the previous day. When we were on our new room, he suddenly complained of difficulty of breathing. I can see him deteriorating as he as on a pulse oximeter. I called the doctor to assess him. They gave him diuretics with no relief. Then the on call doctor asked me if we were really decided not to have him intubated because on that very moment, intubation is the best option. I said no. I remembered what my father said about the intubation. Then my father was given sedative as what his palliative doctor charted in case he arrested to make him comfortable and not feel the hardship of breathing difficulty. Then his palliative and pain doctor arrived early morning and said that if she was the daughter of my father, she would have decided the same. That brought me comfort as it was really hard to decide that time and I was really confused. Then the doctor told me if I agree to give my father a pain medication called oxycodone without blood pressure precaution. She said that eventually, blood pressure will drop. So I thought that my father needed pain medication as he was experiencing pain in his hip and arm due to metastasis. I agreed as I wanted him comfortable as much as possible. Later that day, we positioned him on his bed and we accidentally moved his painful leg and that made his eyes opened a bit. I called him which he responded by opening his eyes further but he was still sedated from the first dose of sedative they gave. Then the nurse gave him an IV dose of oxycodone. I knew his blood pressure was low. But I just thought that since we moved his painful leg earlier, that pain medication would help him not to feel pain. After 20 minutes, my father’s vital signs deteriorated then he died. It was a shock. One of my relative asked if he needed a CPR. I said no. Looking at the fragile chest of my father, I know that performing CPR will only break his chest and would him harm. I said to them this is it. Then we all cried.

    A month after my father died, I have so many guilt feelings. This are my guilt feelings:

    1. If I did not ask my father about the intubation and I decided myself that he is for intubation, maybe he is still alive right now in ICU or a single room. Intubated but alive.

    2. I should have not agreed to give him pain medication without blood pressure pressure precaution, maybe he is still alive right now. I am not sure if that’s the cause his death.

    3. I should have not agreed to move him to other room. He was stable before the move. But I know that he would still experience another attack. But who knows?

    4. I did not spend time with him as I was working overseas. If I knew that he will die soon, I could have requested leave to spend it to him.

    5. When my father was deteriorating, I said thank you very much to him for all he sacrificed to us to make our live comfortable. But I regretted that I did not say how much I love him.

    6. I felt that I just gave up easily. When the doctor said that he would not live more than two months, I just agreed and just gave up that is why I decided to follow his wish not for intubation.

    7. He was the one who made way for me to be able to work and live with my family overseas to have a better life, but he did not really experienced the fruit of his labor.

    8. If we go out and have some fun with my family, I feel that I am not deserving of it. I feel that we are so happy but my father died suffering and disappointed.

    9. I feel that I am not a good nurse. Many of my patients commended me for giving them the best care but I felt that my decision on my father’s intubation was unacceptable.

    10. I give my best to give quality care to my patients overseas but when my father was sick with his cancer, I was not there. I really regretted it. I wish I could turn back time.

    Please send me your feedback. I want to read them. I want an honest feedback. Thank you very much for reading!

    Pat

    • Pat-
      Your post is very poignant. I can tell that you are suffering greatly over this. I can only offer my opinion, but I believe that you are being too hard on yourself. With regards to the intubation of your father, he requested that he not be intubated. He believed that intubation would only buy him more time to suffer and he did not want that. You regret that you gave up too easily on him by allowing him to not be intubated, however suppose he had been intubated and then suffered for longer, you would have regretted that too. Unfortunately, we allow ourselves to believe that there is a right answer and a wrong answer in every situation and life is seldom that way.
      With regards to your work overseas, your father was most likely very proud of you and your work. You said he made it possible for you to do this work but that he did not get to experience the fruit of his labor. I believe that he did, through you. Your father made a great sacrifice for you out of his love for you. He did not do it for himself. Thus, he benefited greatly. He was happy for you.
      You wanted honest feedback, and I am giving you mine. Truly, I believe that you had done everything that you could and I hope that you can come to terms with this. Please be kind to yourself.

  10. So happy to have found this site and section! Why isn’t there more information out there for people in this situation? I lost my Dad around 8 years ago in a way that left me feeling incredibly guilty and it almost destroyed me. Nobody seemed to be able to talk about the guilt, even therapists I went to.

    In my story, my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, having been a lifelong heavy smoker and drinker. Despite being very angry at first, I was over the moon when he quite smoking as part of his treatment, and finally began to feel I was getting my Dad back, he was going to start acting sensibly.

    He came out of hospital after his first chemotherapy session and after about 3 days I went to see him one evening, really happy I could go and sit with him, and he seemed uncomfortable and out of sorts. I see myself as somebody who is exceptionally careful with health matters, most people would say I worry too much, but on this evening I wasn’t worried. Looking back it was so obvious he wasn’t OK and needed proper medical attention. My Mum was more concerned than me but not enough to insist my Dad went to hospital. I was happy to sit with him, get him a drink, get him some water for the night, tell him he was doing well. I was so happy to help him back from the bathroom when he felt weak, so I could put my arm round him. Went up to bed that night thinking I’d really helped him and been a good son.

    Then my Mum woke me early in the morning to say he was going back to hospital as he felt worse. I said good luck and wasn’t worried. Then got another call that he’d been taken to intensive care, and a few hours later another to say that he’d died of septic shock and kidney failure.

    The way this happened is unusual and I won’t go into the details. It’s just so tough to lose somebody the moment you finally felt you were getting closer to them. I think I let my guard down that one time as I felt we were finally getting closer and after smoking all his life he’d quit and he’d be OK.

    I have had genuinely happy times since then, but sometimes it comes back when I feel really depressed. It’s helpful to read others’ experiences. I feel for all you guys and hope you can move on!

  11. My husband recently passed away after a year-long fight with pancreatic cancer. The last month he was in hospice care at home pretty cognizant for about 20 days of that. The last seven days were the hardest because he would no longer respond to most stimuli. Up until his last day though he would respond slightly whenever I gave him a kiss on the side of the mouth. Even though I was holding his hand at the moment he passed I’m feeling extremely guilty now about not holding him in my arms 24/7 during that last week since I knew he could feel me in some way. I was in the room 99% of the time, and talking to him but not always touching him. I know it’s irrational at some level but I’m having a hard time coping. Also feel I should have found some way to keep him in his own bed instead of the twin hospital bed in the living room. I couldn’t sleep with him there. Too many should have would have could have.

    • Hi, Candy. From your post it sounds like you were an extremely caring and compassionate wife and did everything you humanly could do to make your loved one feel comfortable and loved while he was passing away. My father passed away in January, and I constantly reflect about all of the things I didn’t do and all of the time I wish I would’ve spent with him and I didn’t. I am starting to feel like it’s irrational and unhelpful to focus on this. It is comforting when people point out all that I did to help my dad, and all the time I did spend with him. While I understand our situations are different, I can’t help but relate to a sense of guilt that you must be feeling about not being perfect. The truth is that no one is, and when I think of what a great dad my father was, and how wonderful your husband must’ve been, I am thinking that we wish we could’ve been perfect for them because that’s what they deserved. I hope my words bring you a little comfort. God bless!

  12. I talked to my friend as soon as I caught her online, and she helped a ton. Later that day I spoke to my mom, but the thoughts I’d been having I just called ‘Dark Thoughts,’ And I don’t know if she caught on completely. She helped to, since I knew after that my sister wasn’t mad and was scared that she upset me. Im better now, but it’s usual for me to feel overly guilty for things, though this was much much worse then ever before, I’m better.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Ah, I am so glad to hear back from you and that you are doing better!! I hope you never have to go through anything even remotely like that experience or those feelings again, but if you do please always try to connect with others. It is amazing what a difference it can make just to get some support and perspective from someone else. Also, I don’t know if you have heard of it, but there is a really great site and community called “To Write Love On Her Arms” that deals with many of the crazy and complicated feelings that can come up around self-harm, suicide, etc that you might like. Take care and, again, I am so glad to know you are feeling better!

    • So glad you are feeling better, Chloe, and talked with someone about your feelings. Can’t say how glad. Please always remember to do that!

  13. I am so glad I came across this site. My dad died a little over a month ago from some sort of dementia related illness and the guilt I have over it is slowly eating away at me every day. I say “dementia related” because we still don’t know for sure what he had and his doctors I think were grasping at straws saying Altzheimer’s mixed with some form of Parkinson’s, maybe. I am convinced though his brain problems had more to do with a head injury he had a few years ago which could have brought a condition called hydrocephalous which, as it progresses, mimics severe dementia in almost every way. At the time of the injury none of us had ever heard of hydrocephalous and because he seemed to be healing we did not press for any follow up x rays and MRI’s. Long story short if this was his condition there were things we could have and should have done that may prevented his spiral in to insanity. My siblings and I convinced my mom to put him in a memory care unit which really escalated things with my dad, made him angry and scared and rapidly worsened his condition to where he was dead two months later.

    At the time he died I welcomed it due to his misery and me knowing he would not at all have wanted to live life this way. Of course I feel guilty over this too. I am functioning and slowly moving forward but I can’t seem to process this.

    Thanks for listening.

  14. Oh Chloe. …my heart hurts for you. Please please please talk to your parents about what happened and how upset you are. Thank god all are safe, and you learned a frightening lesson. But DO NOT KEEP THESE FEELINGS TO YOURSELF! Yes, they are scary feelings and I understand them as well….but they can be like the monster under the bed. .without light they become bigger than life, but shine a flashlight or daylight and they retreat to something that can be dealt with.

  15. Im 10 years old, about to turn 11 this July, and just a day ago I went swimming with my cousin, my niece, and my sister and almost killed my 1 year old niece. My sister had already said it would be better for her to just swim at the pool at out house in our backyard we had put up that day, but when my niece came to me when i held out my arms, I figured she wanted to get in, but of course she didn’t agree. I was in the deep end, (6 ft, i’m 5’2.) And I wanted to just hold her in it for a minute to see if she’d like it. I don’t know what I was thinking but I picked her up and lowered her to the water with me, but since I was on the edge where it was higher, and I was on the edge of the slope, And pounds weighed onto me, I lost my balance and slipped, using all of my strength to try and swim upward and grasp onto her tightly. I sank, and with my eyes wide open saw my niece go underwater with me, I heard my sister scream “You’ve got to be kidding me!” And run over to get her out of the water. I soon came up and heard her yell at me, “Not in the deep end!” And walk away yelling to my older cousin who showed up while we were there that “And this is why I can’t ever take her on vacation!” My niece cried for a little but cheered up and was as good and well as before the incident, meanwhile for nearly the rest of the time there I held back tears and stared at the wall of the pool, tons of suicide thoughts coming to my mind, but the knowledge i’d never do them staying. My cousin eventually got me cheered up and I played around with my niece a little longer once I got out of water. I was happy again, but the thought and the deep amount of guilt could never leave. The thoughts of wanting to die and that I deserved any pain and didn’t deserve any gifts for my birthday or even a birthday at all, and that I didn’t deserve any of the things I asked my mother for. (Like a phone, and for a subscription to a Loot Box.) When I awoke the next day, the feelings hit me hard, and I almost felt as if I had no emotions. I took multiple tests to see if it was Trauma, but none gave me an answer, only that I needed to put information for an answer, which I put a name and made a new email for it, but no response yet. Even if it was I don’t know what I’d do. I’m scared to tell my mom or dad because I’m scared of any trouble. As i’m writing this, I’m shaking and sobbing because of how around maybe 20 minutes ago the thought came to mind again, and I was home alone, so I started crying, and yes there has been more of those suicidal thoughts and everyones reaction to if I did them, since I got a pool yesterday, but of course I’ve named off myself all the reasons I could never do it, which were things like how my friends would react or feel, how my family would feel, how my niece would probably never know me as she grows up, and that I’d be to much of a wimp to do it. I know my sister isn’t to mad because while staring at the pool wall, my cousin thats about my age was talking with her, and she said she just wanted me to know not in the deep end and something else I can’t remember. My cousin(my age) then came and got me saying my sister wanted me. I swam over after going underwater so if any tears escaped they’d look like water, and she said to swim while I could, but I couldn’t because the water had turned freezing and I didn’t feel like moving. I know this is in everyway my fault and I can’t get over it. The info above hasn’t helped either, I tried to talk to my friend about it on skype but she won’t reply or get on skype. I do get happy and (of course) sad every once in awhile, but I also have those dead inside moments as well.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Chloe, it is really important that you talk to your parents right away and, if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, call a suicide hotline or 911 right away. The suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. I know talking to your parents may be scary for fear of trouble, but asking for help is not something you will be in trouble for. Please know that this site, and others like ours, don’t have someone here 24/7 to reply to comments. To get the support you need it is important that you talk to your parents, a suicide hotline, 911, or another adult your trust “in real life”. Please know you are not alone and many people clearly love and care about you and will want to help you.

  16. Last year when I was 17 I took care of my grandmother who was terminal with cancer. The cancer was all through her body by that point and nobody else in my family could/would take care of her so the job fell to me. I’m happy I had this time with her her last summer but now a year later I feel so guilty. I’m training to be a nurse and I had a little bit of experience at that point. She didn’t want full time hospice care so I was giving her medications and medically caring for her as well as doing the cleaning and cooking and sometimes grocery shopping. Towards early July she stopped eating some things like certain meats and my aunt and uncle blamed my cooking as the cause of her no longer wanting to eat. My grandmother told me that I cooked well though… I don’t know what to believe… and then my aunt also had issues about when I was giving my grandmother medication when I was just following the hospice agency’s orders. I feel so guilty and like I could have done more or even that if I wasn’t taking care of her she would have lasted a little longer. I don’t know what to think. Up to her last two weeks of life I was practically her sole caregiver. Family would come in once in a while to help and my grandfather was in failing health too at the time. I just haven’t been able to deal with this guilt and it is eating me up. It has gothen to the point that I have been refusing dates with my long distance boyfriend whom I almost never see because he could be spending time with his own grandmother who is in fair health. I don’t know what to do and I don’t know if this feeling is normal at all… I just feel sick thinking about last summer and I feel like I have failed her…

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Emily,

      Obviously we don’t have an intimate knowledge of you, your grandmother, and your aunt or uncle or the circumstances of last summer. However I will say, based on your comment, that sometimes people (like your aunt and uncle) make themselves feel better for their own weaknesses by blaming, pointing fingers, and preying on the good nature of others. It seems entirely likely to me that they felt guilty about their own lack of involvement and instead of owning up to it, they came in and bossed you around so they could feel like they were doing something. Because you were in a vulnerable position and much younger than them and because you truly did take your job very seriously, you took their comments to heart. You did the best anyone could do with a very extraordinary situation. Frankly, I am angry on your behalf that they treated you this way when they should have been grateful that you made their lives easier.

      Now, I know that none of this takes away your guilt. Guilt is a normal response in grief and sometimes it’s funny in that it’s really resistant to logic. I would say that if you continue to find your guilt, thoughts, and memories getting in the way of your day-to-day life then perhaps you may walk to talk to a counselor about it, mostly because they ought to provide an objective ear and help you figure out a way to work through it.

      Eleanor

  17. Care for Your ParentsJune 3, 2016 at 10:26 pmReply

    My father needed me to care for him near the end of his life. What I told him was that he needed to care for himself. What I meant actually was that he needed to eat healthfully because he had a heart condition. But he wouldn’t do so, just ate a lot of junk and told me not to lecture him. I should have taken him into my home and cared for him. I remember how he looked at me near the end. In retrospect, he was depressed and needed someone to care. I was so stupid and self-involved. I’ll never forgive myself for what I said and didn’t do. That’s what I have to live with. I didn’t realize what he knew, that he was dying. If I had cared for him and he felt loved, I would be able to more easily accept his death. But I didn’t. My guilt is rational and haunts me every day. I’ll carry those regrets to my own grave.

  18. I’ve been wracked with guilt since my partner’s death, and I keep trying to talk about it, and people always brush it off and tell me I shouldn’t feel guilty. Thank you so much for this post. It really spoke to me. All I needed was validation…I recognize (sometimes) that my guilt is irrational, but it still haunts me. I look back and see the signs that may have signaled cardiac arrest. I see the symptoms she displayed, now that I’ve done the research and read everything I could find about sudden cardiac arrest, and I judge myself with the information I have NOW about the things I coulda done THEN. Connecting my guilt to the idea of control is immensely helpful. Thank you!

  19. Guilt is a huge problem for me regarding my wife’s death last month on April 10th. Her doctor had put her on a new drug for her seizures which was not working. She also was having trouble sleeping so the doctor had her go to a sleep clinic for an overnight study. I was supposed to get there at 5:30am the next day to pick her up. After I dropped her off at the clinic I went to see a friend’s house I had never seen before and we had a couple of beers there. When I got home and went to bed I decided to get at least four hours sleep so I didn’t get up until 4:15am and then I got to the clinic at 5:45am. Since my wife’s seizure medication was not working I had been monitoring her when she showered. When I got there they led me to her bedroom but she was not there. They said she was in the bathroom. It was so early in the morning and I may have been a little bit hung over so I didn’t think to go to the bathroom at that point to check on her. After about 10 minutes I realized she had been in the bathroom too long. I went to find a technician and I asked if my wife was being monitored. I was told they don’t to that due to privacy. I asked for her to be checked on and was told I could do it. I went to the bathroom and knocked and got no answer and there was no noise from inside. So I opened the door and saw my wife’s naked dead body on the bathroom floor. She had had a seizure. If I was not late by 15 minutes and did not wait for 10 more in her room, I could of been there to save her life. I do not know I am going to live with this guilt. It was bad enough I didn’t push her enough to change her non working drug, but I chose to go to my friend’s house the night before and then chose be a little late to pick her up the next day. It may have cost my wife her life. She choked on her tongue and if I was there I would of known what to do to save her.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Oh Mark, I am so incredibly sorry for your wife’s death and for the incredible pain you feel. There is no easy answer to guilt – self forgiveness is long and sometimes complicated process. If you haven’t already, I would suggest you consider talking to a counselor who may be able to help you through this process. If you haven’t already, I would suggest you read our post on guilt vs regret. There is a nuanced but extremely important difference between the two that can be helpful in really teasing out what you are going feeling:

      http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/guilt-vs-regret-in-grief/

      You may also want to check out this post on self-forgiveness:
      http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/grief-and-forgiveness-part-two-12-tips-for-self-forgiveness/

      I hope you find some support on our site.

      • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

        Ah, Marc!!! So sorry for the misspelling!

        • Thank You Litsa. I was seeing a therapist but didn’t like him and now I have started seeing a new one but I don’t like her either. Neither one seems trained in grief counseling. Neither one wanted to talk about my guilt, they both just said something like you cannot turn back the clock. I am now in search of a third therapist. I want one trained in grief counseling.
          This has been so hard, nothing I have ever felt as been like it.
          Thank you so much for the website, it has been extremely helpful to me. Please keep up the good work and thank you for the nice comments.
          I will check out the links you suggested.

  20. I feel guilty about my husband’s death. He was adopted as an infant. I keep thinking I should pushed more for him to get his adoption records from his adoptive parents so he could have found out if heart disease was genetic. He had high blood pressure and already had one heart attack before he met and married me, I believe. What if I had pushed more for him to take better care of himself. Ron died of a massive heart attack on January 1, 2016 at home. What if I could have done more to get him help.

    • Hi, Dianne. My father died of a heart attack the same day your husband died. I’m so very sorry for your loss. And mine. I find in dealing with my guilt over missing signs that he had heart issues (he also had cancer and was undergoing chemo), that while I’m coming to terms with it the best way I can there is no way to know if I could’ve done anything to save him. My dad was incredibly bright and stubborn. I couldn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to do. I am wondering if you too wonder if you could’ve made your husband do something like research his birth history more when in reality he was his own person who couldn’t be controlled by someone any way. And in reality that may have not changed things anyway. When I told my brother how guilty I was feeling, although he’s not as sensitive as me, he did make me feel better by saying that “when it’s someone’s time it’s their time.” Basically, although my brother is not a spiritual person, I think he was saying that God (or fate) is the one in control not us. I hope that you, me, and others out there who feel we could’ve done something to “save” our loved ones realize we all did the best we could at the time and there are certain things we can’t control.

      • Kerry,
        Like some of the other heart disease comments on here, Ron was having indigestion issues for a few months before his death. He worked too many hours at his job, also. I started a month after his death going to Griefshare.org group. I learned as you said that God had a definite day in mind for Ron but still sometimes i wonder if I could have given Ron a few more years if I had just pushed for him to investigate genetics alittle more. We had so little time and I miss him so much.

        • Dianne,
          I understand where you are coming from. My dad also had what he called “gas” but now we realize it was his heart. I’m so regretful that I also thought it was gas at it seemed to pass with no consequence. I’m certain my dad would not want me to think I’m at fault for his death. Although I know that logically, I have such despair in my heart because I miss him so much. I’m so sorry for your loss and the guilt that you also feel. I’m hoping that this guilt that we all feel will pass so that we can focus on being better to ourselves

  21. I’m very grateful to have found this site. After a 20 year struggle, four weeks ago, I lost my brother to a fatal heroin overdose.
    Through the years, I tried everything to help him, including getting him jobs, letting him live with me, clothing, food, taking him to 12 steps meetings (we did a 90 in 90), moral support, and friendship. Most of the rest of my family would have nothing to do with him. Through all of this, I struggled and dealt with my own addiction issues, depression, guilt, and codependency.
    Several months ago, after he lost our family home which he had inherited, he’d been living in a homeless shelter, and managing to stay clean. I saw him often in order to help him out when he needed it. I was always careful not to give him money, worried that he only buy drugs. He looked great- he’d even gained 30 lbs.
    Then, after finally getting him into a 90 day program, he was kicked out within a week for stealing. Shortly thereafter, he made it into another 28 day program. One Wednesday, two days before he was scheduled to be released, he unexpectedly appeared at my door , claiming to be out on a “day pass”. I took him to lunch to discuss his plans after rehab. He said the treatment center had lined him up with a job and a place to live, starting that Friday.
    The next day, he turned up again saying that he had been released early. I was very uneasy, annoyed, and frustrated, since I had just lost my job, and on top of his problems, I now had my own to deal with. Since he was estranged from the rest of our family, he was using me as his only support system.
    Very unsure what to do, I asked him what he needed. He said that he would be fine going back to the homeless shelter for a few days, but just needed a little cash to get by on, which I honestly thought would not be harmful, since he had been clean for several months, and I desperately wanted to believe he would stay that way.
    Once I sent him on his way, I felt horribly guilty and worried about giving him cash, but still thought I was doing the right thing. I received an email from him on Saturday, saying he was doing fine, but, unable to let go of the guilt, I responded by asking him to come back on Sunday to stay with me until his job and living arrangements were settled.
    I didn’t hear back from him, which was not unusual, since he didn’t have a phone, and would message me from the public library near where he was staying.
    Unfortunately, I would never hear from him again, since he overdosed the very Monday he was supposed to start a new life.
    I am now racked with guilt over giving him money, and not making him stay with me so that I could keep him safe.
    I’m overwhelmed and feel like I will never get over this; although, I know that I did truly love my brother profoundly, and tried to help him the best way I knew how, as imperfect as that may have been.
    Yes, I am haunted thoughts that I should have done some things differently, but I also know that I did the best I could at the time, and that hindsight is 20/20.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Oh Brad, I am so sorry. I know the pain of addiction on a family can be absolutely overwhelming and I am so sorry your brother lost his battle with the disease. Have you ever attended Nar-anon? If not, a Nar-anon group or GRASP (grief recovery after substance passing) group may be a good place to connect with others struggle with some of these same challenging emotions. It sounds like you did a tremendous amount for your brother, though I know that may feel like little consolation now. Please know that you are not at all alone and, as hard as it is, try to keep in mind that we sadly ultimately can do our best for others, but only having control over ourselves. I hope you continue to find our website of support.

      • Litsa, thank you for your invaluable response and kind words of consolation, which I found to be a tremendous comfort. In some strange way, objective feedback from individuals whom with I don’t have a personal history is most helpful at this time. I suppose that’s because, though they are absolutely well meaning and I’m appreciative, I’m incredulous of friends and relatives who I feel are simply telling me what I want to hear in an effort to make me feel better (just my perception, not necessarily reality).
        I will check out both the Nar-anon group and GRASP groups, and continue to find comfort in your excellent website and podcast.

  22. Six months ago I lost my mum to cjd,she was my best friend and it was so sudden. Our family has always been so close and we were all hurting bad. All dad kept talking about was wanting to be with her,every day he would say he was lonely without her and was going to kill himself. It was hard to listen to after just losing mum and he refused any sort of help. I still visited him most days but he was distant and depressed. Last Saturday he was found hanging from a tree and I feel I could have done so much more. This guilt is eating away at me. I wonder what he was thinking at that moment in time, did he feel alone and that no one cared. I have lost both my parents now and I feel alone…just like he must have.

    • I felt compelled to respond to your post. This may seem odd coming from a stranger but know you are not alone. I think the people who have found this site have done so in search of some healing and connection (thats what brings me here). Maybe its because reading some blogs and listening to some pod casts has made me a tad emotional but I getting a heavy feeling in my heart whenever I hear (or read) someone who is dealing with so much sadness. And it may not mean much from me, but though you may feel alone, there are people here for you.

  23. I understand the guilt you feel, Carol, but please think about how much your brother loved you and would want you to have a happy life. It sounds like your brother gave you a reasonable answer and there would’ve been no reason to take him to the ER (he thought it was his collarbone, why wouldn’t you?) My father died on January 1st, and I too have this tremendous guilt that I could’ve done something more and that I also missed signs that he was having heart problems. He was diagnosed with an incurable but treatable cancer of the bone marrow (Multiple myeloma) a little over a year ago. He was in the hospital twice due to pneumonia, which is common with this disease because it affects the immune symptom. For several months he was out of the hospital and every time he went to the oncologist during the last months of his life, he would always say that the doctor said that his “numbers looked good.” Yet, he was so weak and frail at times. We attributed that to the cancer and chemo. During the last month of his life, he had bad gas attacks. I remember asking him a few days before he died, “Dad, are you sure it’s just gas?” He said that it was because when he took gas medicine he would feel better. He probably was having heart symptoms. There were other signs of heart disease, but my dad always attributed it to the cancer and chemo. So did I, or I just didn’t think these signs were serious. He died New Year’s Eve after he went to bed because of the “gas” pain. My dad was an amazing father. Yet, I feel like I failed him. He needed me to make sure he got the right medical care and I failed him. That’s the guilt I carry around daily. He fought so hard against the cancer, and in the end died of a heart attack. My family had plans for the future. My dad wanted us all to go on a cruise when he was feeling a little better. Sadly, we will never go on that cruise and my children will miss their amazing grandfather. Why didn’t I see the signs that my dad was dying? Or did I just ignore them because I wanted so badly for everything to be ok?

  24. My brother died about a month ago of a heart attack. He was only 48. My Mum died just 3 months beforehand and I was clearing away some things from her house with my brother the week before he died. He told me he had been having a pain in his arm and it worried me – I said ‘Its not your heart is it?’. He said ‘No, its my collarbone (he broke his collarbone whilst horse riding years ago). He said he had pain there for years so that made me feel better; I thought it could not be serious. A week later he died of heart disease so I think the pains he felt were associated with his heart. I feel so guilty that I did not insist on taking him to hospital at the time. If I had he may still be here. I have felt like committing suicide since his death. I feel responsible. I was so close to him and I loved him so much but I let him down when he most really needed me. I don’t feel that I can ever live happily again. I don’t want to talk to anyone or go out and I don’t like myself anymore. I wish I had died instead of my brother – I feel I have died inside. I don’t feel that I will ever be able to laugh again or to enjoys holidays. Both my parents have passed on now but I keep thinking how disappointed they will be in me if they are up in heaven with my brother.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Carol, if you are considering hurting yourself please seek help right away! You can walk into any emergency room or call 911 (if you are in the US). You can also call the suicide hotline in the US at 18002738255 or in the UK at 44 (0) 8457 90 90 90. If you are elsewhere just google suicide hotline and your country name.

      I am so sorry for all the loss you have experienced. Many on this site have been exactly where you are, feeling there is no hope. This is especially true so shortly after a death. Somehow though, people manage to move forward- one day at a time. Have you connected with a grief counselor or support group?

    • Hi Carol. My dad passed away in April. Last time I talked to him on the phone he also complained of chest pains and of feeling tired. Years ago he broke his ribs so he (and I) attributed the pain to it. As for the tiredness, he used to be frequently tired (for other reasons), but this time he said he felt “really tired”. He told me he had seen a doctor and all was apparently ok, but I sensed something wasn’t right with him. Thought about calling him again, then: “nah, he’s fine”. He died the day after of a heart attack. Now that some months have passed, what makes me feel worse is not what I failed to see, but thinking about how our relationship could have been better in so many ways. We all make mistakes and overlook things sometimes, but you loved your brother deeply and did all you did from a place of love. I wish I could say the same.

  25. My husband passed away 8 months ago after being diagnosed at six weeks. I was not there during his passing. He was 53. I had many problems during our marriage and there was no closure or words spoken to one another before his passing. The guilt I experience on a daily basis consumes me. I don’t know how to begin to start moving through it.

  26. My mother passed away a little over a month ago. She had been in and out of the hospital about 10 times in the last year. she had heart and lung issues as a result of smoking for 46 years. she had quit 5 years ago and I am so proud of her for that but the damage had been done. Last May, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy, chemo and radiation. My husband and I were also building our house and moved in in the middle of all of this with our 12 and 13 yr old children. I had a conversation with my mom a month before she passed, that I had to take care of myself and she had to take care of herself. I still visited her and would bring over groceries, soups, etc about once a week. We chatted on the phone and texted daily. The day after my last day of radiation, my mom called and said she had a stomach virus. I brought her some gingerale and broth, etc. She didn’t want me to come in the house because she didn’t want me to get sick. The next day she was in the ER. They released her and said it was a virus and it would last a few days. The day after that, I called her and she sounded very weak. I asked if she wanted me to come up and she said “no, that’s ok”. I called her back that night and thought she sounded better. The next day was my daughter’s birthday party and it was crazy at my house. I called her after the party and she had passed away home alone. Most likely cardiac arrest from being so weakened by the virus. I feel like I should have gone to see her or called earlier. I am so sorry that she was alone. I am not sure why I was not on higher alert and realized how life threatening the situation was. I also feel like I was a little distant over the last month. I think just worn out……

  27. My dad died unexpectedly a week ago. I had been ignoring his calls for three weeks. He was depressed and it was so hard for me to talk to him. I often got irritated, sad or pissed. I always answered every 3-4 weeks..but now I didn’t hacevthe chance too.. me and my be was gonna go visit him and mom this week, but he died before that.

    Many years ago we had an ok bond..then I moved about 500km away and I tried to live my life in my way. He often complained or got mad at me for not doing something he wanted me to do.. Last time I saw him in October 2015 I got really anxious around him. The last months before he died I think he was in a better mood but I still didnt take all of the calls. I had alot to do in my own life and it took energy from me to answer..at least I answered my mom’s text messages so he knew how I was doing.

    This feelings of regret and guilt is driving me crazy. I didn’t want it to end this way..I was gonna go see him..I didn’t answer his last calls because I was doing my own stupid stuff..surfing the internet and had dance lessons…my boyfriend told me today that he had been thinking how much better I was doing when I didn’t answer my dads calls…I have hade many panic attacks and anxiety the last couple of years..but now I was doing better. I just hope my guilt isn’t gonna eat me up..

    • I have a similar story. I love my mom very much but she was often depressed and it was draining to talk to her when she was having a hard time. I ignored her calls for two weeks before she died of a stoke yesterday. I think she was calling to tell me she was excited about her new place. I’ve never felt such strong regret/ guilt in my life. I hope it will fade with time. I hope you are doing better as well.

  28. I have a lot of guilt over my brother’s suicide (ding ding we have a winner for deaths associated with guilt!). It has been about 6 months and I often find myself thinking about a specific time where he opened up to me about a death he was grieving but I was annoyed because he had been drinking (he was an alcoholic) and I had friends over and I was so tired of having to deal with him. I was 16 when that incident happened, I’m 19 now and I know I should have been there for him and not worried about what my friends were thinking while my brother was hurting so badly. I also feel guilt because during the summer before it happened I was out with my friends a lot of the time. He was my big brother and he needed me and I wasn’t there for him. He was only 25. We have two other siblings one older and one younger than him but it was always me and him. We had a special bond and I really feel like I let him down.

  29. My father died suddenly this spring. 2 weeks before we spoke on the phone but it ended not on a very pleasant note. The night before he died I was going to call him but decided I didn’t want to bother him and I would call him the next day to apologize. I feel horribly guilty about the original conversation and then the subsequent not calling in time. now not having him around at Christmas time has me feeling depressed and guilty. It is starting to wear on me and my temper is short with my wife and kids, I am getting so depressed and it is hard to kick it. Reading this helped some as well as reading that it is normal and other people have feelings of guilt like this.

  30. My mom died Jan-31-2014 from colon cancer. I have experienced much guilt since her death. The two that resurface the most are telling her it was okay to ‘go’ and that we would be okay without her, we were told by hospice that verbalizing this to our mom while she was “actively dying” would help her let go. I wish I now that I NEVER said this to my mom. Which leads to the my second biggest guilt : not telling her that I was dying inside, that my heart was being ripped out and that I was NOT okay on any level. If I could go back and change one thing it would be this. Screw being strong ” for your loved one” .
    Got Guilt ? Yes we do……..

    • I feel that way too.. I was trying to be strong for him to let him know it was ok to go.. He asked me a month prior to please let him go and I couldn’t .. I knew I would die inside when he did.. So when he took a turn for the worst.. I told him we’d be ok, the kids would be ok… But I’m not and I knew I wouldn’t be…

      • Family does says time will help heal and I gotta believe that.. But I know how you feel..

        • My family also tells me it is not my fault. My husband died March of 2016 after a battle with lung cancer, I know he would not want be to fell quilt but I do, I suffered a heart attack exactly 3 months prior to his death, I hurt without him, he was my best friend and companion, I need him, I have my children but they don’t understand how much I miss their father, we had our anniversary 2 months after his passing and I still have trouble coping with his passing and I don’t know how to explain it to the kids even they are grown. I feel as if a part of me is missing and I can’t fill in the hole. They tell me to get a hobby but it is hard to deal with some everyday things when you go the store and when you get home you expect to have your other half there and they aren’t. I is the same when I go to bed at night, you expect them to be there beside you then you know they aren’t and you can’t sleep or if you do go to sleep you don’t rest. I have tried to explain this to my children but until they lose their spouse (which I hope they don’t any time soon) they can not understand how I feel. What is it I cannot understand is how some people can remarry so quickly after being married for so long and then losing their partner. I does not make sense to me.
          I am hoping with writing this it will help me understand my grief a bit more. Anyway that is what I am hoping for.

    • Jillian
      I completely understand! !! I was told by hospice. .drs.. sisters. . Everyone that I was the reason she couldn’t let go! I feel that i look back and an angry that i want my usual persistent determined daughter for her before her diagnosis. .mistly..but especially when there seemed no hope to everyone else. I insisted that i was not giving up and told her so. .. then the turn…. i never said we would be ok without her but i didn’t show my emotions to het on the way that i was intensely feeling them inside…i was so afraid to make het any sadder than she was. .. but i regret terribly NOT holding tougher and letting her feel that.

  31. Two years later, guilt is still a big problem for me. It is irrational in large part, but I am somewhat stuck. The same thoughts go through my head, all coulda, woulda, shoulda. This time of year is anniversary time, so it just gets worse. I have even been able to come up with NEW shouldas that I never even thought of before. Luckily, I wrote a chronology of the rather protracted events that ended up in him being found dead, so when I read it I am reminded of some of the reasons, completely rational, I acted as I did at the time. This helps a little, but not enough. Control is a big part of it. Irrationally, I desperately want a do over.

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Robin,

      It sounds like you have a lot of insight into your guilt – including when it’s irrational – and yet you still feel it. Isn’t the disconnect between rationality and emotion interesting? I’m not sure if this would be helpful at all, but we wrote a post about self forgiveness that tackles dealing with some of those coulda, woulda, and shouldas -http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/grief-and-forgiveness-part-two-12-tips-for-self-forgiveness/

      Eleanor

  32. I lost my 25 yr. old son to an overdose nearly 4 years ago. He was a great son, and so much more than just a “drug addict”. I want to remember him as who he really was, not the illness that took him. I am still dealing with guilt and seeing a counselor to help me think more rational about how I really did help my son as much as I possibly could. This comment, ” If we accept that we never could have known or changed the outcome we must accept that some things that happen are complete outside our control. As long as we hold on to guilt we have hope that we could have controlled the outcome. A perception of control (however inaccurate) is often more comforting than considering that we have no control.” really hits home with me. I am so glad I found this website and have told other grieving parents about it. The depth you take on about the topic of grief is amazing. There is so much to learn, I am still just hitting the surface of your site. Thank you for talking about grief and the death to overdose, the much ignored loss of life.

  33. I found this site yesterday while trying to understand my irrational anger. My son died 3 weeks ago of an ?accidental overdose of ??..tox reports pending. He had been clean 15 years..THANK YOU SO MUCH for this site. Learning about all the extra emotions. ..I have already buried parents sister and husband. . But this is worse. Guilt, blame , guilt FOR blame , …I’m sure I could go on with that. Many of my son’s friends are in this boat with me. Then there’s his girlfriend. ..who’s the recipient of a lot of the blame. We had not gotten to know each other yet so I feel of little comfort to her and her support system is not as extensive as mine. (Guilt? Nah..) But I also don’t have the emotional energy to be much help to her. Again, thank you and August 31 will be celebrated (the week after his 40th birthday)

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Hey Sylvia,

      I’m so sorry about the death of your son. It happened so recently, I’m sure you guys are all still reeling. Have you by any chance had the opportunity to check out any of our posts about surviving an overdose death? We have a whole category dedicated to it. I’m just asking because sometimes people just find us through a Google search and don’t realize what other resources are available.

      Eleanor

  34. My husband passed over 7 months ago. Last year, before his illness got “bad” my job moved 3 hours away. We decided tht I would stay with my job and stay in the town it moved to during the week and come home on weekends. My guilt stems from the fact I can’t get over that I “left” him to fend for himself and he died within 6 months. He had been living with his illness for a long time and we had been managing it. Then I start working in September and by November he started going downhill. He was on disability and I was the wage earner. We discussed me trying to find a job in town but at the time we felt it wasn’t a viable option because of the huge pay cut. All I do is wish. I wish I hadn’t left. I wish I had stayed and took care of him.

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Julia,

      I’m so sorry for your pain. I won’t try and talk you out of your regret, but I will say that sometimes we just have to do what we have to do. I’m sure you made the decision that you had to make at the time, but I know this doesn’t change the fact that you wish you’d been there. I’m just very sorry.

      Eleanor

  35. Thank you so much for writing this post. I am new to WYG. I am so grateful to have found you today. I have being going totally mad with the ‘shoulda, woulda, couldas’. I’ve only recently realised that the main thing I’m struggling with is guilt. What you have written is really useful. I think it will help me to start to work through some of my guilt. Just the realisation that it’s guilt that’s underlying is helpful. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed for so long and not been able to get a handle on what’s wrong. It’s been making me so tired. I’m going to use your tips as a starting place. Much appreciated.

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Joy, we are so glad you found us to. Guilt is one of the most difficult emotions of grief, so I am glad you found some help in this post. Take care and let us know how you are doing as you move forward.

  36. I am consumed with guilt over my Mothers passing 3 months ago. I can’t handle it.

  37. I think the thing about guilt is that, although many of our issues are big ones, even the small ones can plague us because they can’t be resolved. To this day I feel guilty for not going to see ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ with my mother when she was ill. To this day if I see it playing on cable I get really angry.

  38. I don’t have any guilt feelings in the sense that I feel I caused my sister’s death or could have prevented it (although I have certainly wished I could have prevented it). I have something more like survivor’s guilt – that I am alive and my children still have their mother, while my nieces and nephew are suffering without their mother. It’s not a prominent aspect of my grief and I do think it’s irrational – but it’s there. Thank you for sharing your blog with us.

  39. Thanks for this post. I read it 2 hours ago and thought “hmm I don’t have any guilt about my Dad’s illness and passing away”….and then, as always, I changed my mind! I do feel guilty about lots of things, every day since my Dad died. The guilt has been there but I hadn’t connected it with grief, but now it makes more sense. I feel guilty about other things instead….guilty about burning dinner, guilty about someone else treating me badly, guilty about not giving my husband more of my time, guilty at saying “bye” on a phone call in case the other person wasn’t ready! Luckily I don’ take myself too seriously!

    Just wanted you ladies to know I read WYG every time there is a new post (and here in the UK I wake up to your posts!). I’m also realising that as my grieving progresses, different posts/thoughts become more relevant than others. I can’t thank you enough for the important work you do to help me, others and people in the future. God Bless both of you.

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