Guilt During Grief is Normal but Unproductive

I had guilt feelings after four loved ones died within nine months. My elder daughter was the first family member to die and, though she and her twins came for dinner every Sunday, I wished I had spent more time with her.

Two days after she died, my father-in-law died. He had dementia, and caring for him became increasingly difficult. I had conflicting feelings. While I wished I had done more for him, I was pleased with the things I had done. Four months after his passing, my brother died. His death was a double blow because we had been estranged for 10 years. I mourned his death and the time we wasted.

So I didn’t just have guilty feelings, I had guilty feelings times four. Believe me, grief is a hard enough journey without guilt. Grief counselor Phyllis M. Hansen, MSW, addresses guilt in her article, “Is Grief Work?” It is work, according to Hansen, and you can find hope again by doing it. Her article includes 10 grief work tasks and one is conquering guilty feelings. “If only I had . . . grief games are non-productive,” she points out, because they are “out of proportion” to reality.

Carol R. Doss, PhD describes guilt in a Family Counseling Website article, “Guilt — A Pointless Exercise?” She defines guilt as “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense.” Guilt isn’t a one-size-fits-all emotion, according to Doss, and “it’s the imagined part that makes this emotion so problematic.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that guilt wasn’t useful. I could not go backwards in time and rehash issues, nor can you. The only option is to get on with life. Or as Doss puts it, “Let non-productive guilt go . . .” You and I have the mental power to face guilt, temper it, and apply this energy to other things.

When I had guilty thoughts about my brother, I balanced them with humorous ones, such as the time my mother drove into the front porch. Until that moment, she had been doing pretty well with her driving lessons. She wasn’t hurt and the porch wasn’t either, but we felt the force of the collision. My brother opened the door and called, “Did you knock?” Only he would come up with a line like that!

“Guilt . . . If Only . . . What if?” is an article on the Healing Heart Website. Many mourners have guilt feelings, the article says, and “guilt is not usually satisfied with explanations.” You can spend hours searching for explanations and not feel better. A better approach is to “get” guilt before it “gets” you.

First, identify guilt feelings and accept them for what they are — part of grief. Focus on happy, humorous memories, as I did. Accept the fact that life will always have unanswered questions. Getting intellectually involved in hobbies, volunteer work, or classes will also help you get rid of guilt. Instead of devoting energy to guilt, devote it to living the miracle of your life.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson, BS, MA has been an independent journalist for more than 35+ years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the MN Coalition for Death Education and Support. Hodgson writes for and has earned top status. A prolific author, she is the author of hundreds of articles and 31 books. All of her writing comes from experience and heer recent books focus on grief recovery: * Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss * The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul * 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope * Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life * Writing to Recover Journal (with 100 writing prompts) * Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, co-author In 2007, after her daughter's death and former son-in-law's death, she became a GRG, grandparent raising grandchildren. Her latest book, Help! I'm Raising My Grandkids: Grandparents Adapting to Life's Surprise, came from this experience. In addition to writing books, Hodgson is a columnist for "Caregiving in America" magazine and Assistant Editor of ADEC Connects, the electronic newsletter of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. A popular speaker, Hodgson has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer's, hospice, and grief conferences. She has appeared on more than 160 talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations/programs, including CNN. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors and other directories. She lives in Rochester, MN with her husband and twin grandchildren. Please visit for more information about this busy author and grandmother. Books by Harriet Hodgson The Spiritual Woman: Quotes to Refresh and Sustain Your Soul, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, 101 Affirmations to Ease Your Grief Journey: Words of Comfort, Words of Hope, available from Amazon, Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon, Writing to Recover Journal, available from Centering Corporation, and Amazon. Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, Lois Krahn, MD, Co-Author, available from Amazon,

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