Guilt vs Regret in Grief

When it comes to grief, guilt and regret are words that get tossed around pretty regularly.  We all have things we wish we’d done differently, things we wish we had or hadn’t said, things we feel terrible about.  This isn’t our first time writing about these topics.  We have a post on guilt here and a journaling exercise on regret here.  We also have a post on why you should never tell a griever not to feel guilty (or anyone else, for that matter!)  But we have never really talked about the important differences between these emotions, in part because I had not really given this distinction much thought until this past week.  I was running a grief group and someone in the group expressed some things that she was feeling guilty about and another woman responded saying, “I think what you are feeling is regret and not guilt”.  This led to a lengthy discussion about guilt vs regret, which proved surprisingly helpful to a number of group members.

So, what is this distinction in definitions all about?  To start, it is important to say there is no agreement about the definitions of these words.  I checked numerous online and text sources and found variations among each definition.  So what I will share here are some common definitions, and definitions that my grief group found useful this week.  No promises that you will agree!   First guilt: many suggest guilt occurs when we do something that we know is wrong while we are doing it, typically for ethical, moral or legal reasons.  Regret, on the other hand, is the emotion we experience when we look back on an action and  feel we should or could have done something differently.  It differs from guilt in that we didn’t know or feel at the time that we were doing something wrong, or we didn’t actually have control over the situation.  Also, it typically is not that we did something that falls in that morally or legally wrong category, but rather a benign action (or inaction) that we later wish was done differently based on an outcome.

Just so we’re clear, let me give a grief-related hypothetical example, loosely based on examples we have heard.  Say my grandmother is very ill and I receive a call that she likely only has a couple days to live and very much wants to see me.   Due to my own internal ‘stuff’ I am avoiding the situation so I lie and say I can’t get off work and I don’t go see her before she dies.  In this case I feel guilty because I actively made a decision to do something inconsistent with my values and love for my grandmother.  Alternately, say I get the call and rush to see my grandmother.  I am on my way to see her when my flight is cancelled and by the time I arrive she has already died.  In this situation the feeling I experience is more accurately regret, rather than guilt.  I did not know the flight would get cancelled, my actions did not cause that to occur, and I did not intend for it to happen.

Okay, so now comes the big, who cares?  If both situations result in you feeling like crap and wishing you could change the past, why not lump them both together?  Here is where I would say thinking about language and really understanding the nuance of these two different emotions can help us in our coping and healing.  When we are feeling  guilt, the work we need to do around taking responsibility, forgiveness and self-forgiveness may look somewhat different than when we feel regret.  If it is guilt, seeking to make reparations (if possible), seeking forgiveness from others, and seeking self-forgiveness all may be part of the work that has to happen to manage your guilt.  You can check out a lot more detail on coping with guilt here.  When you find your emotion is more accurately regret, you may find that working through it involves things like acceptance and determining how we can learn and grow from the experience.  A great place to start is this journal prompt on embracing regret.

Now that I have made this sound black and white, let me muddy it up a bit.   You have probably realized already that there are a thousand situations where guilt and regret are blurry.  When it comes to grief, we often wish we had said or done things differently and, knowing now that the person died, we can’t help but want to impose that onto what we knew at the time.  We say, I should have know X could lead to Y.  Or I should have always behaved as though each day could be his last, as that is always a possibility.  We allow these should haves to morph our regrets into guilt.  In the example above, when my flight was cancelled, I might say ‘I should have known flights get cancelled, so I should have drive’.   In these situations it is important to reconize this thinking and, when possible, cut ourselves a break and accept that we can’t possibly live out lives acting on every possible outcome of every situation (easier said than done, I know).

These may sound like small and detailed distinctions, but if we want to truly heal as we grieve, it is important that we always try to clearly understand our own emotions.  Guilt and regret are biggies, so it is worth taking some time to reflect on these and get a better understanding of your own experience.  So no real advice today, no how-tos.  Just some food for thought to better understand our own emotions in grief.untitled3

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April 12, 2017

41 responses on "Guilt vs Regret in Grief"

  1. It is really hard to deal with my husband’s death.Reading these articles helped me a lot but again and
    again this sense of guilt comes up.Perhaps I would never be able to get over this.

  2. In transactional analysis, guilt was defined as a racket,, meaning guilt provides a way to avoid facing the pain that can arise,
    either based on reality or a delusional perception, that one has committed or even thought about a destructive act.
    According to the hypothesis, guilt begins with the fear of rejection; fear leads to sadness. After being tortured for a period
    of time by these two powerful emotions, the self-named perpetrator becomes tired of the pain and turns to anger. The anger
    often leads to a repetition of the act or thought and the cycle continues. Guilt can be used by others as a manipulative tool
    that adds fuel to the cycle unless the perceived perpetrator recognizes the manipulation and escapes the cycle by walking
    away from it.

    Regret, on the other hand, is primarily a feeling of sadness and loss felt by the perceived perpetrator by having made some
    kind of actual mistake or perceived mistake and a wish that the perpetrator had chosen another type of response to stress
    caused by any kind of circumstance. Regret is a slippery slope to past feelings of failure and doubt. In some cases, regret can
    be overcome by recognizing that everyone makes mistakes or perceived mistakes, and what the heck, a time comes to move
    on and learn by whatever thought or action led to the crappy feeling of failure in the first place that continues to haunts them..

  3. I lost my mom a week ago! I’ve been taking care of her for 4 years. She had to have 2 emergency surgeries back to back 4 years ago when she was 84. She was already showing signs of beginning dementia, but lived alone and was functional. The 2 surgeries threw her into a steep slide into more progressed dementia.. my husband is retired and watched her during the day while I continued to work. I took over when I came home from work. I tried to take her out for a drive every evening and get her ice cream. I took her to the beauty shop once a week and they kept her hair, nails, and toenails done. My husband and I took her on outings to family cookouts, our grandsons plays, and choir concerts, etc. I loved her so much, but I didn’t want to admit she was getting worse. Sometimes I would get aggravated with her for not trying harder. I had her out riding around the night before she passed peacefully in her sleep the next morning. I regret so much ever getting grouchy with her, and for not buying her more clothes and shoes, or the Roku I promised her. I also promised to paint her porch and get rails put up on it, but never did. I thought we would have a few more years together and I’d do more of the things I promised. I tried to hug her and kiss her a lot and tell her I loved her, but I so wish I had never gotten hateful with her. I feel like I lied to her and deceived her telling her I was going to do these things and buy her this and that and then not getting it done. I just hope she can forgive me and that in time, I can forgive myself. I spent her money and mine too, and sometimes wonder where it all went. My husband says I spent so much time taking care of her, is why the other stuff didn’t get done. I sure hope he is right. She had been in a wheelchair for a couple of years. She was doing pretty good until about 2 months before she passed. She had begun to aspirate her liquids and her dr was treating her pneumonia with antibiotics and steroids. I really wasn’t expecting her to die. So soon. I miss her so much and have so much guilt and regret!

    • Your story is so touching and helped me feel less alone in my own feelings of guilt and regret over not doing enough in my grandma’s last years of life. I just wanted to share that I hear your pain, and from the sounds of it, you really did everything you could and more to help your mother. I hope over time your regret has been able to heal a bit.

  4. My daughter just passed away on Feb 1st, 2019. She just turned 9 on the 19th of January. She had SMA type1 and had been pretty healthy. With her last hospital stay being in 2012, until the last week of her life. That is where she died. She begged me to bring her home, get her up and put her in her chair and bring her home. She wasn’t getting better at the hospital, they was doing things to her I didn’t agree with and wasn’t happy with, the last night, she was in so much pain, she told me her chest hurt, her blood pressure was up, her o2 stats would drop, her heartbeat would race, I told them that’s because she’s in pain, they was more concerned with treating the BP than the pain. She never even wanted to go to the hospital, looking back, she only got weaker daily. I have so much regret, I didn’t see death coming. I wish I could have protected her more and fought harder against the doctor’s. I have so much anger, guilt, regrets, so many things I would have changed. She was my life, I lived to care for her everyday. She was my little mini me, my heart, I promised her we would go home. So many things I feel I did wrong and she paid the price.
    Now, I’m having dreams that she keeps dying in my dreams, I don’t know how people can move on, I’ve lost my mom, dad, grandparents, and now my daughter. This one is the one that is the hardest one, I can’t heal, I can’t move forward, I see her everywhere, my house is full of unfinished projects that we never got to do. I have things I hid to give her, now I can’t. I really need a lot of help. I just can’t seem to move forward

    • You truly love this baby. So much love and so much pain. I believe in Jesus. I’m seeing the life she has today with him. Yes she missing you but in a good way not with sadness but one day she will see you again. You were fighting for her life but it did not work out. You love her so much she fought for her. You were telling God and the world that she was worth fighting for. One day ask God to give you peace.

  5. I grew up with my mum being a binging alcoholic. She could go months working and leading a normal life, and then fall into her binge for weeks on end. This started when I was a kid, My first memory of it was from when I was 4 years old. Both me and my sister were “enablers”, we attended her every need.
    By the time I got older, about 16 years old, I held a lot of resentment when she drank. I didn’t see her as herself, It’s like she was a separate individual overall. We had an amazing relationship when she was sober, she was my best-friend. But, as soon as she was drinking she would be emotionally abusive, sometimes physically abusive and draining.
    I got the point where I didn’t know how to deal with it, I myself suffered from depression and couldn’t face that current binge any longer. My mum had some counselling previously and we tried so many different times to help her, But as soon as she was sober she was like a completely different person, and she often felt like she didn’t have a problem.
    I didn’t feel safe and was often told to get out of the house in the middle of the night having no where else to go, at the time I was 19. One time she tried to drag me out by my hair.
    I locked myself in my room, and I prayed to god, and begged for him to help me, I begged for all of this end. This last time the binge dragged for almost two+ months. I went away for a couple of days(3-4), and when I came home I found my mum dead.
    I haven’t been able to forgive myself ever since, I feel like I was the one that asked for it. I’m not a religious individual as such so I’m so confused. It makes me feel sick, even though it’s been four years, I often feel that I don’t deserve to be alive, That I’m a horrible human. That I could’ve helped her more, That I was selfish, that I left her all alone and she had no one there. I’ve thought about killing myself so many times, But I’m so scared to do it, and I just don’t know how to forgive myself and make all of this go away.
    Please help me. I don’t know how long I can go on for.

    • Hi jay, I can not say I understood what you are going through but please know it was not your fault. I would love to get in contact with you, sometimes is good to have someone to talk to. Email me [email protected].
      Seriously email me we can exchange contact information.

    • Hi Jay we have pretty similar stories! I’d love to say that it may get better but I don’t have that answer! But I do not know no matter what saying goodbye “yourself” will help. I will not lie ever since my mother’s death about two years ago now I to have had these overbearing thoughts and feelings of death/regret/grief! It’s hard to not to escape it. But othe the other hand we are not at in control of othe people and as well as the addictions that are attached to them. Maybe even ourselves… I do feel as if we can control US and the fact we have big future ahead of our life’s. It’s beyond sad we won’t have our Moms hear to enjoy it. But honestly addiction is the reason to blame! Please reach out!!!! I’m here I’ve ALWAYS wanted to connect with someone who understands or even remotely understands. 😊 Email me!❤️💜😊🥰 [email protected]

    • Hi Jay,
      I grew up in the same environment and totally understand what you’re going through.
      But first things first it was not your fault. AT ALL. It is all down to your mother and the addiction.
      Nothing you could have done would have stopped her drinking if she wanted to (I tried thousands of times, all pointless)
      The best thing you can do now is go and get some therapy, build op yourself and your own life and nor behave like her.
      I suffered from depression, feeling worthless, anger etc etc but after a few years of therapy feel like anew person.
      Look at it this way – if you were strong enough to get through your mothers episodes you can pretty much do anything.
      Lucy x

  6. I lost a loved one. This article and postings have helped me understand some of the feelings and thoughts I am having right now. I apologize if the subject of which I write is discussed elsewhere, but writing this has helped me think this through. Maybe it is something someone else finds helpful and sees for the first time here. It just pains me to read prior posts of kind, loving, compassionate people blaming themselves.

    Like others, I have guilt over not having limitless compassion and empathy for an ailing/dying loved one. I learned after the passing that there is 1) a condition called “COMPASSION FATIGUE” and 2) the people who get this condition are actually very compassionate and empathetic. The reality is compassion and empathy are not limitless. After much time, effort, and energy caring for the loved one, there comes a time that it feels like you have nothing else to give to this person. Then, we act with anger, frustration, unclear thinking, etc., towards our ailing loved one. It looks like a lack of compassion, mean, or evil, but in reality it is more likely stress, exhaustion, preemptive grief, lack of feeling or seeing the “rewards” of our extensive efforts to care for the person because no matter what we do death is close for the person we love.

    Only the compassionate get this condition because people without compassion do not care enough or invest the time and effort to get compassion fatigue. They may have some other mental suffering, but it is not from an over extension of compassion.

    I find some relief in knowing it is a diagnosis with some clear critetia, there are ways to combat it if I see it in myself or others in the future, and my regretful actions/inactions were not because of a lack of love, compassion, or understanding.

    I hope for increased peace and comfort to all of you.

  7. Dear Phyllis, I know how you feel. I too was short tempered and much less kind than I should have been when I looked after my mum. Like you I loved her so much but somewhere along the way I lost sight of her and she just became this body I had to care for. I’m racked with guilt and seriously think about killing myself on a daily basis. I feel my life is over and all happiness and peace of mind has gone. It’s been 5 years since she passed and the pain and torment only gets worse. I hope you find peace and the guilt lessens. x

  8. I was 20 at the time my sister 17. She attended 1 day of her senior year. You see, it all changed so fast on an August, scorching hot day. It was a Saturday, we both were playing co-ed softball. She wanted to go ahead and Play in the tournament, me not so much. I decided not to go. Then a few hours I get a call that she’s gone. My sister and her boyfriend were both killed in a car accident, actually a pick up is what they were in. My regret is and my question is still this. What if I would’ve went ? Maybe it wouldn’t of happened. Maybe it could have been me. She was the youngest of seven kids I was second to the youngest. I watched my parents go through a very difficult time but I still in my heart I feel like my mom wished It would’ve been me. Then I feel guilty that I feel that way. That My mom could actually think that way. But I can’t help the way that I feel. My mom is passed now. I can’t get that back either. Always wanted to ask her….. I just never felt loved, or “as important” as the other siblings in my family.

  9. I lost my wife of 44 years ago when she was 64 years old. That was a year ago. No, I was not the perfect caregiver. Yes, I have regrets. Yes, I have guilt. Yes, I am a human being with human emotions and limitations. The message I would like to give here, although I am not a professional, is that one way to get over these feelings is to have new goals. My son and wife are looking for rural property to build a house. I love driving around to locations where these are for sale and do an initial drive by to see if the property is as good as it is advertised. I took a trip to New Zealand. I planned for it several months in advance. I am going back to Florida soon to see my other son and his family. I am restoring an old tractor. I do woodworking. My therapy is distraction and denial. Of course, the demons come back when I lay down at night and try to fall asleep. I wake up at 3:30 AM which is the last time my wife spoke to me requesting a drink of water and a back rub. When I awaken at 6:30 AM , I can’t just lay there, because the demons want to haunt me as I lay in slumber. My therapy: Up, Moving, Doing Things. Everyone I know thinks I was such a wonderful person and caretaker. I don’t judge myself so generously because I know there were times when I was short tempered and impatient. Guess what? God will judge me someday on my whole life and not just when I fell short of being the best I could have been. If anything, this has taught me to be more compassionate and empathetic towards others. Also, nonjudgmental. You also have to look at from your loved one’s point of view. That person would not want you to be wounded by the death. That person would want the best for you and not have the passing to be a source of continued pain. I wake up in the middle of the night at 3:30 AM plus or minus about 15 minutes. I look at the clock. I tell my wife hello, and I love you, and she gives me the gift of letting me fall back to sleep. Yeah, just a little middle-of-the-night conversation. There are probably several cliches that fit this life experience: “Walk a mile in my shoes.” “Life is for the living.” “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” “The tragedy in life is not reaching one’s goals, the tragedy is in not having any goals.” And one of my favorites for all the caregivers out there is: “God gives his biggest battles to his strongest soldiers.”

    • Steve, My husband died of metastasized cancer. From diagnosis to death was 374 days. There were so many times that I tried to push him; to drink more water, to eat better, to use the breathing apparatus that he was advised to use by his PT people. I often felt that he was non-compliant. And because of this I felt he was giving in to his disease. I would rage at him….likely at cancer itself more than at him. But rage and impatient I was. He was sick and so very weak. I wanted him to fight. I simply refused to see or acknowledge just how sick he was. I had a lot af anticipatory grief already starting from surgeries that were unsuccessful and on going infections. There are so many times I wish I had just given him a safe place to express his fear, or cry, or just hold him tightly. The sicker he got the more clinical I became. Now, I am in very very bad grief with ever present suicidal thoughts. I believe I deserve to be in the intense pain that I am currently in as a result of my actions and inactions. I’ve sought help; but nothing is working. People continue to tell me “you did everything you could”, or “you were a good caretaker”. No one wants to just see my truth the way I know it was.
      I am desperately in love with this man. I forever will be. I cannot sleep, and when I do I wake at 3:15….give or take 15 minutes. I sit up, and beg Dean to give me another 30 minutes, or another hour of sleep. I’m experiencing severe chest pains and ear ringing. My logical mind knows that I could not save him from cancer. It came for him, and just kept coming. It’s me, and the lessons I have not yet learned on this earth that are keeping me from joining him. He’s moved on to a better woman who is more worthy of the amazing man he is. His loving kind spirit. He loved me even when I pushed him away over the years. I still can’t believe I’m living this nightmare. I kind of wish I’d kept all the awful medical shit around to remind myself just how sick he was. I am the monster I beleive I am. I thought I was a fighter; that I was fighting for us and for him. I should have practiced some acceptance of the reality.

  10. I am an Indian . My mother had a fall in bathroom but that did not hurt her and she was looking fine . She was sleeping a lot but I thought that it was normal considering her age (73-74 yrs )and also when awake she was almost normal . Then slowly in a weeks time she went downhill and then when it was decided to admit her in ER I took her by my car to the hospital and that happened to be a Government Hospital . My Mom went to heaven same evening . Now I am filled with extreme guilt that had I showed her to doctors beforehand and also admitted her to s big Private Hospital she must have been saved . I am killing myself with guilt each day . I feel that I am responsible for my Mom’s death ……

  11. I understand that there are lots of definitions of guilt and regret, and it is hard to pinpoint a definitive one. I know you had to choose one for the sake of your article, but here is an alternative:

    Guilt: when we do something we think or know or are told is wrong. We may do something knowingly, or may realise we are guilty after the fact. Guilt is the THOUGHT about an action that judges it as being wrong or bad. It is about our thought processes around this (or society’s thoughts on it).
    Regret: The feeling that comes from doing or thinking we have done something wrong or bad.
    You can be guilty without feeling regret, and you can feel regret without actually being guilty.
    When we say we are “feeling guilty”, we are actually THINKING we are guilty, or have done the wrong thing, and are reacting with the FEELING of regret. The guilt may be true, or it may not be. We may have different standards of what the wrong thing is in a particular circumstance or situation than someone else or the societal norm.

  12. Thank you, this was very good to read for me.
    I have true guilt. It turned out I contributed to my beloved Mom’s death and it was almost five years agi and every day is like torture.
    She was living in a home for elder people since 15 years, paralysed sitting in a wheelchair after several strokes.
    We were very close and I felt she was both my Mom and my baby.I loved her so much.
    She died from Pneumonia but could have lived a couple of days more, she was totally awake and alerte that last night, I was sitting by her bedside, but her breathing was very fast and had been for many hours.
    Finally I rang for the nurse who gave her morphine and sedatives.This calmed her down a little but the rate was just as quick, about 50 breathes per minute.
    This was so disturbing to me and I was so afraid, after 30 minutes I rang for the nurse again and asked if it was possible she could have a little more.
    She said yes, and gave my Mom a second injection.
    Two hours later she died.
    Please, if someone got any advice..

    • oh… I feel your pain. My mother died in 2014 from a fatal stroke. we were given the opportunity to either let mom recover and be a vegetable, or to ease her passing and administer morphine for comfort. We knew her wishes and knew she would not want to be a vegetable, so after the family came and said their goodbyes, we administered the morphine. Did I know it was a decision that my mother would have wanted if she could speak on her own? yes. but what I knew in my heart versus my head were two entirely different things. The guilt, the “what if” burdened my heart for years. I learned, years after my mom’s death, that morphine will not kill you. even high doses. I did not know this at the time. I think if the nurse administering the dose of morphine and a sedative thought it was life threatening, she cannot administer the dose and would have talked to an MD, who would have talked to you (at least this is how it would work in the United States). In 2017 my brother died in hospice. Part of my grief therapy was to speak with the hospice nurses about his care and some of what occurred. It was extremely helpful to me and it enlightened me about the morphine used in my mom’s death. If you can, talk to the hospital administrator, patient advocate, and have someone talk to you about the care given and the medicine administered. I can tell you it eased my mind greatly. I can also tell you that grief therapy saved me from years of anguish. It was hard to go through the therapy, but in the long run, it saved my heart and soul.

    • Karin, as a nurse and as a survivor myself, I can tell you that your mother was actively dying. The morphine was making her more comfortable, but did not cause her death. She was making the transition and nothing you could do could prevent that. Nevertheless, your grief is real and deep.

  13. My mother died on November 3. I am 71, she was 88. She lived with me the last nine years but I was her caregiver the last year and a half. She was precious, always loving, thanked me for changing her, getting pills, etc. For some reason I couldn’t even be sweet to her the last few months…I was so irritable, nothing she said was right, though she did nor said nothing wrong…I made her feel like she was a burden, made her cry and would say hateful things about her peeing and pooping when she couldn’t help it. Her death was not expected and it all happened within 9 days. She came in from the hospital, hospice was there, and she was dying of heart failure…all that time I could have kind and wasn’t. I don’t know if I will ever get over this. I feel like the worst person who ever lived. I loved her but didn’t make her feel it, and I didn’t know I was such a bad person until this…I don’t know if there is any hope for me because I feel like I need to be lonely forever, like I made her feel at times, I need to be verbally put down like I did her…I don’t deserve happiness ever again. I have an autistic son at home and I go on and try to go through the motions for his sake, but inside I wish I could just take a beating every day the rest of my life. I know where she is but I could have made her last year so much better. I didn’t know she was dying and we are not supposed to be any different on any day because none of us knows when our time or our loved ones’ time will come, but I know I would have been so gentle if I had known….

  14. My mother died 9 months ago. I am racked with guilt and feel I may have hastened her death. She had been living on her own but was very isolated. I had a home health aide in twice a week and I saw her every weekend. She began to fall regularly and couldn’t handle her medication. My sister and I moved her to assisted living. From that moment she declined both mentally and physically and seven months later she was gone. I can’t help but feel I never should have taken her out of her home. Maybe she would’ve been better if she had full time home health care. I feel like I made her last months unhappy for her.

    • Amy,
      I am so sorry about your mother. I understand your feelings completely. You put your mother into assisted living, and she died soon after. You did what you thought was best at the time, and no one knows the future.

      My mother’s passing was truly complicated by a dysfunctional family situation, the choice of personal aides for my mother (I ended up trusting the wrong person whom I believe was so manipulative and dishonest that she was largely responsible for my mother’s death), my mother’s dementia, and my own stressed-out and anxious state).

      One thing I know is that we can’t go back and redo things. That’s the thing about life that kills us inside.
      My mother died because she fell (even though I thought I had made the situation fall-proof). Some stuff came out on her knee, an d after a month I took her to a doctor who said it looked like an infection and I should take her to the hospital immediately, and I did. To make a long story short, I found out too late that it was not an infection at all. It was arthritis, but the antibiotics the hospital gave her made her dementia worse, and she developed pneumonia and died. Oh, and my brother and I both got the pneumonia, and it causes all kinds of life-threatening problems later. Neither of us is doing well physically or emotionally.

      My mother lived to be 100 but I am completely devastated by her death because I knew antibiotics would kill her in advance, and I didn’t try to get a second opinion anywhere though I thought about it. She became the cutest person in the world, and I die inside when I think of her in her little white sandals with her feet not reaching the floor.

      I cannot exonerate myself because I don’t completely trust my feelings–if that makes sense. I was so so stressed out all the time, especially worrying about what was happening to her when I wasn’t with her. My mother never complained or talked about any of the aides, so I couldn’t know. I remember saying to myself one time, “What if she lives to be 110?” I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the anxiety of it all. And, I wonder if on some level I caused her death. As a matter of fact, I keep thinking about her death, and I feel more guilty by putting pieces of the puzzle together. My brother’s family was horrible, and I couldn’t handle their rejection of me.

      I would really like feedback from anyone. I really don’t want to live anymore. I feel so alone and guilty.

  15. I am having huge trouble coping..I took care of my mother till she died yesterday
    I was usually pretty attentive in the daytime but at nite when the sundowners kicked in, I was short and screamed at her. She was clean and well groomed and I often rubbed her back for comfort. I cut her hair and did her nails, toes, bed changes and baths. I just did not have same patience at nite as daytime because I was tired and worried about bills, family etc.She lived with me..I provided a medical bed, bedside toilet and all the anemities of home..

    Ultimately….She would not eat and knowing she would die without food, that mostly was my frustration as she became frail and lost over 100 lbs as I watched. When I went to bathroom, or even to get mail, she would scream where are you. I had no time to myself at all and when I did it costs me so much. When I had to go out of town for work about every 2-3 months she always had someone with her24/7. Early on, before she was bedridden, she would pout and cause me so much stress before I left that I stopped telling her to avoid leaving in a beaten up state of mind.

    I obsessed with watching her on cameras in my absence and worrying about her. Thats all good except when you just break down and cry in front of her saying one day ” I dont deserve this life”, “why dont you appreciate me”. “Leave me alone”. I thought I was losing my mind so many times, I just broke down and cried.

    She just suddenly passed yesterday..I guess i have been seeing this for year, but jsut did not think it wodul JUST HAPPEN> and now I have tons of guilt as to how she must have felt. She did not want to be alone or die alone. As she was in pain, I called nurses and doctor who came to house and I was sitting talking to them in other room when she finally died. She had begged me not to let her die in a hospital so that was my main concern. I even went on porch for coffee because I could not bear to listen to her moan while waiting for doctor/nurses. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN STRONGER.. I REGRET I WASNT. I sat with her day and nite but I was absorbed in my own life and because she had demencia just did not get into crazy conversations with her feeling they would be meaningless

    How do I cope, what can I do now

    • Jill, I am so sorry for your loss. I hope you know that you did an amazing job caring for your mother. I work in hospice, many of my patients have dementia, and it is a very tricky disease, as you know well. People say and do all sorts of things they don’t mean. If it helps at all, I just want to tell you what a special person you are. Being a care giver for your mother with dementia is the HARDEST JOB ON THE PLANET! Yes, even over being a mother. The roles are reversed and now you are caring for the person who once cared for you, only now you are also caring for the person their disease makes them as well. It’s both the most rewarding and the most difficult job on the planet and no one will ever convince me otherwise. I won’t ever tell you not to feel guilty because guilt is a part of being human and that emotional is yours to feel if you need to. But I will tell you as many times as you need to hear it that you are strong, you are amazing, and you took wonderful care of your mother and she loves you so dearly for it. You gave her a gift that so many cannot. You gave her the gift of being home to die. And if you weren’t there when she passed, she planned it that way. Moms do this. They don’t want their babies to see them die so they slip away at moments when they are alone. I see it all the time. People will have someone with them 24 hours and they pass when the care giver goes to the bathroom. Please know that you are strong and wonderful and my wish for you is that this experience will only give you more strength in the long run although I know it hurts like hell right now. You deserved those few breaks you took and she knew that too, her disease just wouldn’t let her say it. Much love to you and best wishes for your journey. May you find peace in the happy memories you have of her and always know that you gave her a very special gift.

  16. I lost my wife 2 months ago. She was 55, and passed after 2 years of terrible illness, multiple operations and amputations (both legs). Finally she had a massive blood-clot in the brain, but still she hung on for 6 more weeks. Then the hospital informed us they were switching off her food (they had been feeding her intravenously). 4 days later she died. I had been sleeping next to her at the hospital every night for 3 weeks. The one night I was not there she died. She had Type 1 Diabetes since she was a child. We were only married for 5 years but I love her more than anything in the world. Now I’m overccome with regrets/guilt. Although I was a kind loving husband I didn’t show her as much physical affection as I should have. I assumed we had many more years together. Had I known we had such little time I would have been so much more attentive. I will never be able to forgive myself for this. And now its too late. she’s gone, and I can’t even say I’m sorry. I am haunted by every little cross word I said, or every time I was impatient with her. I actually feel now I deserved to lose her.

    • Hi Mike,
      I actually feel what you are feeling. Although it is with my mom, who passed away in January after 9 month of suffering from Cancer.
      While she was alive and healthy, I never gave her time and affection. I always focused on work and things that don’t really matter much. Even though i used to love her so much, my shy and introvert nature always kept my emotions from showing, always took her for Granted. She was just 56 and i thought i had time.
      Wish you all the best for the future.

  17. Very helpful post. When my precious daughter in law was diagnosed with ovarian cancer (after a 20 year battle with multiple myeloma) I wanted to go to Florida to help her. she insisted that I wait until she had the cancer surgery. As things deteriorated i kept asking if I should come down and even a week before her death she insisted that she would need me when she had the cancer surgery. I finally booked a flight for my husband and i but 5 days before the scheduled trip she had to have an emergency colostomy due to intestinal blockage. The following morning my son called to say she’d been intubated and we might want to change our travel plans. We got on the next flight out but she died while we were enroute. I never got to see her again. So while I don’t have guilt, I do have regret. I am sorry that I didn’t follow my gut and go down…but then I also felt that I had to respect her wishes. Death is never easy. But I have no regrets where our relationship was concerned. I loved her and she loved me, a rare “in-law” relationship that was special. So thank you for defining what I feel. This grief journey is ever changing.

    • Wow, I certainly appreciate your feelings about regret for not going to your sister earlier, while at the same time honoring her wishes.
      It’s something I often still ponder five years after my husband’s suicide. What I’m coming to accept is that death happens to everyone, and it happens in so many different ways – some kinder, some more tragic. Finding peace, regardless of HOW it happens to our loved ones is our journey, and along the path we can learn many new ways of living and being in the world.

  18. Thank you. This was in my head and good to hear your explanation.

  19. Thank you for helping me…to define the differences helped me so much..

  20. Hello!
    It was actually in a John Edwards event that I came to another distinction .
    The Grief we feel, sometimes, is about LOST OPPORTUNITY.
    My father didn’t get to see his grandchildren grow up.
    They did not get to share THEIR life’s highlights with him.
    When you define it, it is also about LOST OPPORTUNITY for both the griever and the
    deceased. Defining this has helped me.
    ALSO…..some may find benefit in writing in’s “Private Conversations”.

    • Yes definitely! We write about this as “loss of hopes for the future”. We imagine we will have a certain life or people will be there for certain life events, so when they are not we grieve that loss.

  21. Hello –

    I’ve wrote in my journal, and I have a regular psychiatrist, therapist, and more recently – a grief counselor, who recommended that I take a look at What’s Your
    Grief. Being a person who has a blog at, it is easier for me to articulate my experiences and feelings in the form of prose.

    I had my first loss in August of 1996. My grandfather died of renal failure, just before his ninetieth birthday. I moved my family from South Carolina to Virginia, to be caregivers for my grandfather in late
    1993. My mother, who had a stroke in December 1989, was in a vegetative state from 1991 through 1998.

    So, in effect, I was a working musician, a ‘Mr. Mom’ to my kids, and I tried to maintain a marriage to a functional alcoholic. My father had begun to drink after my mother’s stroke, and while we’re on the subject – I was a binge drinker, and a marijuana user when I traveled out of town for musical engagements.

    Being the first-born son in a family based in Italian culture, I made the
    arrangements for the funerals, did the ‘meet and greet’ during these, and, the eulogies.

    So, to sum things up: my
    grandfather passed in 1996; my mother, who had been on life support for nearly eight years, finally succumbed to a massive infection in 1998; then, in 2006, my father died of cancer, after my family moved him in with us after our return to South Carolina (he came in 2000; his house had become a wreck in Virginia, and I was the only one to show up, clean things up, and help him move).

    Three deaths in a little less than a decade. Being the primary caregiver for all concerned, I never really got the chance to grieve. Since I wasn’t taking good care of myself, I’d been through back surgeries, my diabetes wasn’t being kept up with, and just before the economy tanked during the last part of the Bush II presidency, my marriage had officially ended; with no work, or support system, I ended up
    homeless, living out of an SUV and homeless

    Do I have guilt? Yes. While in a relationship during my homeless phase, I pawned over $14,000 dollars worth of musical gear, to keep us in housing (and groceries/sundries) at an
    extended stay hotel. I was promised that I would get it all back at tax time. Instead, our relationship ended – I was homeless once again, and all of the stuff we had in a storage unit – which included my parents’ cremains and family legacies – were no longer accessible to me, as the lady removed me from the account, and changed the access combination. It has been going on five years, and I finally contacted the storage facility and confirmed that my ex-girlfriend still had the storage unit, and now – with the help of law enforcement – I will be able to get my parents’ cremains and family legacies back, and the ‘guilt part’ of my life may get a ‘breather’. My kids, now approaching their mid-twenties – and, your’s truly – stay in touch. I’ve been drug-free for seven years, and alcohol-free for almost six… plus, I’ve got the most wonderful woman in my life (who nearly died in 2014 from the H1N1 Virus) – I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time, though my lady’s daughter passed away from cancer last year.

    Life changes can be tough. The loss of loved ones, even more so. Though I’m now disabled, I can still play, write, and sing music (thank you, M & M).

    I still have hope. D.

    I f

    • You have been through SO much and yet you are still here to talk about it! That says volumes about your strength of character. Keep playing you music, it soothes the soul!

  22. After living in the same city as my older daughter, my husband and I decided to move to another area where we also had children. I did not tell her until we were ready to sell our home. She didn’t say much, but now since she passed away in March, I feel guilt that I should have told her sooner and possibly knowing her circumstances should not have moved.

  23. I feel both guilt & regret, I lost my wife of over 50 year 2/2/14
    I regret that I didn’t tell Her I love you more often.

  24. Thank you so much for giving me the language that clearly shows the distinction. In my grief group there was a discussion about true guilt, so I asked what would be the opposite of true guilt, working with the supposition that if there’s true guilt, then there must be an opposite, and what would be an example of false guilt. We had a long discussion, and eventually, I asked if the difference between the two would be intent. We all agreed that it seemed to be logical. So, I’m glad to know that we were on the right track.

  25. As I told last week, the man I loved was married to another woman. He had been my first love when we were 17. When he told me he had metastatic cancer my first thought was to jump on a plane and see him before it was too late. I live in NY and he lived in London, UK. He told me not to come so I didn’t go. I regret it and will do so for the rest of my life. I just wanted to hold him, kiss him and comfort him one last time. I understand it would have been awkward with his wife there but I was willing to subject myself to her anger. I think about it every day and I am so sorry I didn’t take a chance and just go. Yesterday was his birthday and all I could do was light a candle and say a prayer, not much comfort for me.

    • Hi Linda,
      I am very sorry for your loss. I stumbled on this site and read your post. I have a similar type of situation that just happened to me. I am wondering if there are any words you can tell me that possibly have helped you over the years since your loss? I am struggling with the regret of not getting in touch with my first boyfriend. We were in and out of each others lives for years. we married other people and maybe for the best. But i always wanted to continue our last conversation which was many years ago. Things were just unfinished and we ended our conversation a bit abruptly and I wanted to tell him all the ways I felt about him and how much I did love him. my first love. Now I cannot, I found out he had a sudden heart attack at 52 and is gone. I always looked forward to getting back in touch and almost did just before xmas but life is busy and there is always another time. The sadness and regret of things somehow unfinished and unsaid is destroying me. I see that it has been a few years now for you and just putting this out there to you, a complete stranger on the internet who probably does not even have this email anymore….asking for some , any help and wisdom. thank you Linda.

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