Grieving Process Newly Widowed

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE GUILT OF SURVIVORSHIP DURING GRIEF

How-to-deal-Survivors-Guilt-Grief-The-Jolly-Widow

Many of us are plagued by the guilt of survivorship during grief, preventing us from fully healing and moving forward in our lives.

There is certainly not a time limit to grieving. Some of us may be able to heal from it within a year or two.  Others may still be suffering from the pain years later even after surviving the initial tougher stages of the grieving process, plagued by the debilitating grasp of survivor’s guilt.

In some cases, survivor’s guilt keeps us stuck in grief for much longer than we want while feelings like anger, sadness, confusion, non-acceptance, haunt us in our wake.  Despite our constant struggle to wriggle out of the quick sand of despair, there is also a part of us that’s simply not ready to move on.

A PART OF US NEEDS THE SUFFERING

A part of us subconsciously needs the suffering which then causes us to feel guilty about letting go.  We mistakenly think we need to suffer because we are the surviving spouse – because we are here, and they are gone.

If they passed away due to an illness, or in an accident, you might feel like you could have done more to save them.  The same guilt trap also kept me stuck in that perpetual black hole for the majority of my mourning process.

If your loved one died “young,” or at a younger age than what you may consider “normal,” feelings of anger and injustice may also accompany the guilt. (E.g. My fiancé passed at the age of 29, and it was a harsh reality to come to terms with).

If you are struggling with survivor’s guilt, you may be experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Unintended weight loss
  • Insomnia/dysregulated sleep patterns (e.g. the Triad Sleep pattern, waking up every 3 hours)
  • Paralyzed in bed most days
  • Chronic feelings of fear, anxiety, and heart palpitations
  • Cloudy thought processes that affects your ability to make decisions

Know that you are not alone.

Whatever perceived storm cloud in this moment, will pass, just like any other temporary experience in life.

The key is staying grounded, accepting this moment, and accepting any emotions that may arise.

YOUR THOUGHTS ARE TRAPPING YOU

Your thoughts are effectively trapping you in perpetuating feelings of survivor’s guilt.  You may think your loved one died “before their time”, or they had an entire life ahead of them, or you may believe they didn’t “deserve to die” because they were too good/too gifted of a person, or Death should have taken you instead.

In reality, these are nothing but ego-based thoughts seeking concrete justification, or validation, where there are none.

While it’s natural to question reality, doing so repeatedly will only keep you in a never-ending cycle of repetitive thoughts with no real conclusions, depleting you of any remaining vital energy.

There’s no way you could reach any solid answers to these ruminations, so why lead yourself down that path?

SPIRITUAL REASONS FOR AN “EARLY” DEATH

On a metaphysical level, no one has permission to take away the life of an individual without their consent. 

The time and date of death for each of us have been established on a soul level, before we were even born.

The decision might have been reached during an in-depth deliberation between members of your soul family, beyond our conscious awareness in the physical realm.

This outcome may be the most essential one to accelerate the soul growth of the members in the rest of your soul group.

Or it may be that your spouse or loved one has completed their life purpose and soul mission for this lifetime – whether it’s resolving karmic debt, or learning core life lessons.

These are only my jabs at an attempt to understand the intricate workings of the Divine.  But truth is, we don’t know.

We won’t know the mysteries behind God’s grand plan until it’s our time to return Home to the other side.  Only then and there will we experience the ultimate revelation, and reunite with loved ones who have gone before us.

COMING TO ACCEPTANCE WITH REALITY

Right now, we only have to accept the current situation and work on healing ourselves from this loss.

If you feel stuck in grief due to the incessant molestation of survivor’s guilt, please know that:

You have done everything you could have done at the time, to the best of your abilities.

There was nothing you could have done to prevent their death.

Give yourself permission to forgive.  Forgive yourself and any other person involved, and embrace the feeling of guilt.  Forgive yourself and any perceived “hurt” inflicted on the deceased.  Forgive anyone you feel might have been responsible for the death of your loved one.

It might be tempting to blame someone involved in the situation leading to the passing of your love one.

But there is really no one to blame for the death of your loved one. Regardless of our human-level preconceptions about whether or not an individual was directly or indirectly responsible for our spouse’s death.

Our death is pre-planned.

Only by accepting and fully feeling these feelings can we go beyond them.  Guilt is only another expression of love in a masquerade.

5 PRACTICAL WAYS THAT MAY HELP YOU OVERCOME SURVIVOR’S GUILT:

  1. Embrace widowhood as the opportunity to learn financial independence.  For instance, if you were in charge of household duties while your spouse was the primary bread-winner.  Or to revive long-forgotten personal dreams and aspirations that you never had the chance to pursue while in the relationship.
  2. Schedule a few sessions with a grief counselor, or therapist.  If you prefer an impersonal setting, I’d recommend participating in support groups from your local community center, or church.
  3. Talk or write to your spouse, as if they were still around.  Express your feelings of guilt.  Air out any dirty laundry.  Sometimes all you need is an outlet for your emotions.  Once you’ve consciously processed these feelings through tangible means, they’ll gradually fade.
  4.  Set the intention to release any feelings of guilt. Intention setting is a powerful way to synchronize your body, mind, and spirit.  To make sure all three parts of you are on the same page.  Saying the intention out loud, or solidifying these thoughts onto paper are effective ways to program your conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind. (I.e. “I wish to let go of all feelings of guilt surrounding the death of my loved one/spouse. I love and accept myself unconditionally.”)
  5. Praying to God or a Higher Being. You may refer to this higher power as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, your Higher Self, Supreme Being, Over-Soul, or Spirit.  The name doesn’t matter.  What matters is the act of prayer itself.  Praying helps us access the Divinity that is present within each of us. In praying, we surrender all of our grief and fears to a Higher power which helps relieve us of psychological distress.

When you have these feelings of guilt arise, allow yourself to fully feel it and find ways to express it.  Forgive your deceased loved one, forgive anyone directly or indirectly involved in the situation, and most importantly, forgive yourself.  Remember that you have done everything you could, and their death was completely out of your realm of control.

Release any remaining remnant of guilt you maybe holding on to, when you feel ready.

Have any effective tips that I’ve missed? How did you deal with the guilt of survivorship during your toughest times? Let us know in the comment section below!

How to Deal w Survivor's Guilt - The Jolly Widow

16 Comments

  1. It is very difficult to overcome guilt when you know that you could have done more to help that persons suffering while they were still alive. I don’t know why I see it all so clearly now. My husband spent so many years telling me how difficult I was making life for him, financially mainly, but I ignored him and carried on. I hurt him deeply because I was like a child feeling resentments I had no right to. My husband was one of the most kind and generous and thoughtful people that I know and I abandoned him when he was weak, I wasn’t aware of cruel I was to him until after he died. How can this possibly be right?

    1. Hi Julia,

      I understand you may be overridden with guilt and shame due to your past actions. But please understand that sometimes, we humans tend to project our pain onto others, especially towards our spouses. Our significant others are often our biggest mirrors – reflecting our best traits, as well as our biggest unhealed emotional wounds, which tends to create a never-ending cycle of “projection” towards one another, if our wounds are left unhealed. I can only assume that both of you were acting from a place of great unaddressed pain, which is not a fault of your own. Both of you were merely unconsciously acting from that place of unhealed “programming.”
      I’m not sure how long it’s been since your husband has passed, but our loved ones are closer to us in Spirit than ever before because they are no longer limited by a physical form. You can really experience the love from your husband if you are willing, and are open to it. I experienced many energetic “hugs” from my fiance as warm tingles, and sometimes chills on my body. But our loved ones send signs in many ways, as I’ve mentioned in a more elaborate response to another one of your comments on this post (https://thejollywidow.com/7-rituals-heal-faster-grief/). I hope this helps Julia.

      1. My name is Laura. I lost my husband of 38 years to cancer two months ago. I am proud of our last year when he was sick and how I took care of him but not of how I was before that. I was angry at him a lot because I felt lonely. I yelled and badgered him a lot to pay attention to me. I was immature. He was a kind man and he was a very good worker. I go over in my mind every fight we had now and don’t feel like I deserve to be here. Thank you for your honest post. I just felt like replying with my experiece.

        1. Laura,

          I too lost someone very close to me recently and like you, I was fully there helping the last year of life. I gave up everything to be there. I did the best I could but of course, I constantly go through different scenarios in my mind of what if I had done this and that, or just more. There’s a sense of defeat for sure. People say I was so supportive, and I appreciate that, but I’m always feeling like I didn’t do enough. I can’t help it.

          Mostly, I feel so much guilt because I too, I’m not proud of how I behaved previous to that last year. I too would yell and complain a lot. I wish I could take it all back. I could’ve been more caring, affectionate, loving and understanding, but I was blinded by my own stress and problems.

          Like you, I go over every negative experience we had and it feels awful. Pure guilt. It’s intense! Although we were both at fault oftentimes, I only remember all my wrongdoings. At the moment I felt so justified for my behavior, but now I see it differently. It hurts so much. Sometimes too much to bear. Too bad sometimes it takes losing someone to realize how incredibly amazing they were, their invaluable role in our lives, and how much we truly loved and still love them. I focused on flaws instead of all the good qualities. I was impatient instead of understanding.

          I’m trying to learn as much as I can from all this, while dealing with all the pain, guilt, and yearning. I never could’ve imagined I’d be going through all this, and sometimes it still feels like a bad dream. I know little by little it will start to hurt less.
          I too feel I don’t deserve to be here. I hope they can forgive us and eventually that we can forgive ourselves.

          Perhaps one day, when our time comes to leave this physical plane, we can be reunited with our loved ones and we can have the relationships with them that we wish we would’ve had here, with the lessons that we are learning after losing them.

          Nancy, thanks for this site

          1. Thanks for sharing your story Lou – I know it can be tough to manage the guilt. Give yourself more credit, you have done your best during that last year and your loved one knows that. I hope you can find solace in knowing that your loved one has already forgiven you, it is time to give yourself the forgiveness and compassion that you need at this time.

    2. Hi Julia and all
      I too came to this site k
      Looking for help ,my wife and best friend Eileen passed away on July4th 2020 ,I feel so guilty ,the morning was like any other recently where she hadn’t come to bed till hours after me ,on coming to bed she was feeling sick and I was half asleep ,we had a takeaway the night before and she wasn’t well ,I left her by the toilet and went to bed after and she sat by edge of toilet ,couple of hours later she was still there ,I helped her to bed and put a bowl next to her ,she then seemed to sleep it off and slept solid for another few hours ,at tea time she was no better and I called the ambulance
      She went into hospital and it turned out she had an ascemic bowl which had to be removed ,my wife had the operation but due to infections and weaknesses from previous stroke 28 years previously she never really recovered and died approx a week later
      I feel so guilty for just assuming she was having food poisoning ,the bowel issue must have been building up for a while but she never let on ,o am same as others have mentioned racked with guilt,people say i was wonderful over the 25 years we were married and in lots of ways I agree ,the stroke had interfered with Eileen and although I loved and adored her she could be sharp with people and often I put her straight on things ,I now feel guilt for doing this and feel I should have just accepted the sharpness and other people would have to understand .
      People,her sisters ,our daughter Say I bring ridiculous,o didn’t want her to die ,they didn’t either but they felt it was better for her to pass and that Eileen wouldn’t want to come home with a stoma ,I just feel we would have managed and feel guilt at her being allowed to die even though doctors said there was no hope
      I am too much of a coward but if I thought we would be together if I ended my life then I surely would ,the hurt and guilt o feel is over powering me ,sorry for being negative but I see no end to it ,maybe I am being selfish as our daughter is getting on with her life although she must be hurting badly ,feel better for writing this down but boy I feel as though it will never end

      1. I’m sorry to hear about Eileen, Stephen. Everything happened in perfect design in accordance with the will of her in Spirit – it was her time to go. Any perceived “mistakes” you think you’ve made that might have caused her death, that all stems from the mind. And the mind has a clever way of keeping us trapped in these mental gymnastics of “should’s” and “shouldn’t have’s.” It’s completely normal that you’re overcome with guilt and grief. When the emotions do come up, try not to judge them or yourself for having these emotions. Try to be present with them, and invite them to sit with you. Only by feeling through these difficult emotions, even if they come in waves, will they subside. Hope this helps, take good care Stephen.

  2. What you’ve said is tremendously helpful to me, reminding me of what I know about death and souls once they return home to Spirit. I am a born psychic medium and have been dealing with those who’ve crossed over, for so many years. If course even though I know . . . my grief, my guilty feelings are so exceedingly painful and my knowledge while it can help others, doesn’t help me with the pain, the guilt, etc. Your touching our soul-reality is a great deal of what I need right now. As the Rolling Stones lyrics put it, “you can’t always get what you want but if you try sometime you get what you need”. Thank you deeply ~ Many Blessings

  3. Reading the various comments here has helped me. My husband was 86. He was stroke disabled, and he had dementia. Notwithstanding that, he was still very brilliant. I had to dress him, wash him, shave him, brush his teeth, feed him, rinse his mouth, and run to him whenever he called. The incessant calling was brutal.

    We are Canadian snowbirds. I sensed that this would be my husband’s final season in Florida. We did not take a car this year, so we were essentially isolated in our home from November 19. It was a great joy to sit on the lanai or on the deck reminiscing, doing crossword puzzles and just enjoying the warmth and sunshine. I had been taking care of my husband 24/7 since 2013. We were together since 1966. This last season he lost the ability to stand. It was very difficult for me on my own, and I was often impatient, even cruel. I was in denial. When he told me that he couldn’t do something, I told him that of course he could. So, I am carrying terrible guilt for not being perfect and for not being more understanding and patient. I have written a letter to him in my journal, apologizing. It helped a little. I will continue coming to this site reading of the experiences of others.

    If there is such a thing, his final three hours were beautiful. He was quiet and at peace. Father Boris visited and said prayers for the sick. A spiritual advisor told me to place a small dish of salt and a glass of water nearby to help his spirit release. I was with him alone until his final breath at 12:30 AM on May 21. And then, I crawled into bed with him, and held him all through the night.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Lili. Glad you were able to find respite amongst fellow readers. I completely understand why you would feel guilty, especially being the primary caretaker of your spouse since 2013 – you very well could have suffered from burn-out. It’s important now for you to practice self-care, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness. Much love.

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