Dealing with Regret in Grief

regret guilt grief claire bidwell smith

 

Today I want to explore grief and regret with you. To date I have never had a client who did not experience some form of regret following the loss of a loved one. Something left unsaid, a decision made near the end that they wish they could change, or a situation unresolved. After a loss these regrets can haunt us endlessly.

For several years after my mother died I obsessed about various things I did and didn’t do towards the end of her life. It had been so hard to see her sick, so scary to see her turn into someone I didn’t recognize, that I often withdrew from her, something that caused me great pain in reflection.

But by far, the hardest one was the night she died. I had left college and was on my way to the hospital, seven hours away. Halfway there I stopped to see a boy I had a crush on and decided to stay the night. Some of this decision came from avoidance and denial. But a lot of it was just my teenage naiveté. Nonetheless, my father called in the middle of the night to tell me that I had not made it in time, and that she was gone. 

The remorse I carried over this ate me up for years. I couldn’t believe that I had failed my mother in such selfish ways. I turned that fateful night over in my head like a Rubix cube, trying desperately to change the outcome. I cried and cried, and I wrote my dead mother endless letters telling her how sorry I was. 

Eventually, years down the road, I was able to forgive myself. After I became a counselor I saw just how many people feel regret following a loss. And I was finally able to see myself in the context of so many others: as a human being, fallible and fragile, and full of love and fear and humanity.

We cannot change our past, but we can forgive ourselves. And we can recognize that we feel this pain because we loved someone so much. And that there is endless beauty in that. 

If you find yourself consumed with regret following a loss know that working through these feelings is your path to healing and eventual peace. Find a therapist to talk through the emotions with. Write letters to your lost loved one. Forgive yourself.

You are not alone.

Love,
Claire