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Bereavement: Moving on from Guilt

Updated on August 17, 2012

Releasing stuck behaviour during mourning

I think many of us, when bereaved, get a little hung up in our grieving process, feeling it is somehow wrong or even socially unacceptable to recover from the loss of a loved one.

Getting a bit stuck with this is often not just expected but even lauded by friends and family as showing true love and commitment.

But, eventually, there can come a time when not allowing oneself to move on can be used for personal 'secondary gain' and the continuation of abject grief becomes simply a licence to wallow in self-indulgent sentimentality or as a tool for seeking sympathy and attention for oneself.

This is definitely an unhealthy place to be mentally and it may occur more frequently than you would think.


Death is always with us.

We all encounter it at some time or another. The death of the last living parent reminds us painfully of our own mortality. And how does one ever get dreaded scenario, the death of a child?

Many of us sink without trace under the weight of grief for a lost child, forgetting that we ever had a right to a life of our own; the right to try to achieve a full and rewarding life for ourselves even though they are dead and will never grow old.

Being of Buddhist tendencies I don't necessarily believe that this is the only life we have but it is the only one we are aware of at one time and, as such, must be both treasured and honoured.

The compassionate work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

Today, most bereavement counselling is based on the valuable work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the Swiss-born psychiatrist, who posited the idea that there are five distinct stages of bereavement that must be worked through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Because we are all different some of those stages are going to be longer for some than others, whilst other stages may even be skipped altogether. But I believe there is another stage, guilt, and this can block the final stage of acceptance indefinitely if not reviewed and released.

Such guilt has many angles. With the spouse one thinks perhaps I could have done more, been more nurturing, loving, less wrapped up in my own affairs etc.

With the parent it takes the form of I could have been more patient, visited more, I could have been a better, less disappointing, child perhaps.

With the child or young adult we think ... 'it should have been me'.

Despite the French wording the stages of bereavement are still obvious.
Despite the French wording the stages of bereavement are still obvious. | Source

Acknowledging guilt.

So, how can we deal with all the losses that accumulate to each of us in our lifetime and their attendant guilts?

After all the refusal to believe death has happened, the raging, the pleading with God, the low spirits, we are worn out and weak and instead of being ready to embrace acceptance we are left only with guilt.

Instead of being ready to say, 'Now what would I like to do with the rest of my life?' we are left crippled with remorse.

It is not easy to get rid of guilt despite most of us being aware that it is a negative emotion and as such is a worthless, pointless exercise. It can never bring the loved one back but when it clings so closely to us it seems impossible to get rid of it.

Even though it seems obvious that we need to identify the guilt and acknowledge it at some deep level in order for it to be released, we still struggle with how to do this.

We struggle with forgiving ourselves for being human and therefore fallible.

The value of inner work.

This is the time when 'inner' work becomes imperative and the best way to do such work is by the time old method of meditation.

Now I know a lot of you will have groaned and switched off mentally at the 'm' word thinking that you can't meditate, you haven't the time, the application etc.

But what if I had said, just sit quietly for five minutes and become aware of your body. Or if I had said, just as you are falling asleep think about anything that makes you feel guilty, acknowledge it and let it go.

It's not so intimidating put like that, is it? But it is still stilling the mind and body, it is just not sitting like the Buddha for hours at a time.

Listening to the whispers: allowing your subconscious mind to speak to you.

These still moments are when your subconscious mind comes to the fore. This powerful 'application' is there to protect you, to watch out for you and to guide you ... if you'll allow it.

The thoughts, often unbidden and apropos of nothing, that come at these times of relaxation are your subconscious mind communicating with you. It allows your deepest inner thoughts and beliefs to surface, even if they are erroneous.

This is often the time when the emotion dominating your life at the time emerges, even if you have rigorously suppressed it; especially if you have suppressed and refused to acknowledge it.

Using this 'time of safety' positively.

This is the time when your subconscious mind is telling you that it is safe to look at, and admit to, this emotion.

For many of us, once you have admitted how you feel, that you have these worries, these guilts, you need do nothing more. Once you have accepted that these are your beliefs, even if you suspect they may be wrong, it is enough to enable you to let them go.

It may take a few sessions of such stillness, just watching and allowing your emotions ... but it will work.

You are entitled to a joyful life.

It is often a difficult concept for many of us to accept but we are all entitled to a life that is both rich and joyful. You are not perfect, none of us are. We all foul up sometime or another but we really have no choice other than to get over it and continue with our lives.

Listening to the whispers of the subconscious helps us do that. They are telling us something important; they are helping us to know ourselves.

They are helping us to move on.

For further thoughts on guilt see:


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    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi Theresa ... thank you for your kind comment.

      Thank goodness Elisabeth Kubler-Ross dared to touch on what was once a taboo subject ... she must have helped so many people.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Many years ago when working on a BA in history I came across Kubler-Ross's work when I was doing a paper on the Holocaust. I found her work very helpful. You have written a useful and good article. Thank you.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi Jacqui ... many thanks for your thoughtful comment. I really do appreciate it. And thanks too for the fan mail ... I look forward to seeing more of you. Just going to check out your work now ...

      All the best ...

    • jacqui2011 profile image

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      Such a well written and thought-provoking hub. I have lost several close relatives in the past 12 months, and there is definitely a guilt phase to go through. For a long time I would think that I should have made the effort to visit more, to call more, or to tell them how I felt about them when they were here. I admire your style of writing and look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 6 years ago from TEXAS

      Thumbs up!

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Yes, Nellieanna ... I do intend to write about my husband's death in the hope that someone could derive some help from my thoughts about it. It has been fermenting in my mind for quite a while and I have still got some thinking to do on it yet ...

      As always many thanks for the follow-up comment.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 6 years ago from TEXAS

      Thanks, Angie. I appreciate that.

      When I was young all but one of my grandparents were already dead. My maternal grandmother died a month before I was born and each grandfather had died when my parents were each only 12. I knew my paternal grandmother for the first few years of my life but she went back north to live with another son and that's where she died. It didn't impact me much. Death wasn't especially "real" to me, but neither was it a stranger to be taken for for granted or not. It was more like a "fact of life". The first death in my life to really impact me personally was that sister and her family and it was so tragic and hit so hard that it literally changed the course of my life. It was many years later before other close deaths occurred and when they did, they were quite real to me.

      It must have been traumatic for a a husband to die of brain tumors so young. Goodness. My deepest sympathy. Perhaps you ought to write about that. No doubt it would be helpful to others with such tragic deaths of close loved ones.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi Nellianna ... thank you for your comment. I always appreciate your thoughtful input. When we are young it is usually very hard to understand that the time will come when one after another of our loved ones will die. I felt like the golden girl for many years then I lost three of my beloveds one after another.

      Sometime I will write about my second husband who died of brain tumours just after his forty-third birthday ...

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 6 years ago from TEXAS

      Ah, Angie - such an insightful hub. I find that there comes a time when one is about the last-standing of her peer group, much less those who have lived before, as all my natal family did. The most real guilt I've harbored was about my dear, but bossy eldest sister, whose very untimely death and that of all her family with whom I'd have been at the time had I not defied her, (for which I was completely unforgiven )- occurred when I was first attempting to exert my own right to be and spread my own wings. It was in 1953 when I was just out of college, so I can't say it is still raw, but it is very well-remembered and the wing-clipping was difficult to overcome for many years that followed.

      All other deaths among my loved ones have been sad but mostly peaceable or at least acceptable. Possibly it is imperative to suffer one really heavy blow from someone's death in order to feel compassion for others who do.

      My most poignant loss was my beloved (3rd) husband 3 years ago. It was the marriage of marriages - long lasting and wonderful. Surely my sense of loss is selfish, too. I miss him so much.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 7 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Thank you, ladyjane1 - it is kind of you to comment on this hub. I hope you are right and that it helps others ...

      Kind regards ...

    • ladyjane1 profile image

      ladyjane1 7 years ago from Texas

      Very nicely done. I have had to deal with bereavement of a parent and it is very hard to get through. You hit on some very helpful and useful points here that Im sure will be very helpful to everyone. Cheers.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 7 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Many thanks, intriguewriter, it's good to know other people know what you mean.

      Bless ...


    • intriguewriter profile image

      intriguewriter 7 years ago from worldwide

      Great hub! Moving on can be hard but we simply have to embrace acceptance. Keep up the good work x